Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How governments cook the books

I just wanted to jot down some of the ways that I've noticed the US government cooks its books. I'm sure other governments have their own variations on these themes and, taken together, these methods represent a certain "state of the art" in taxation.

The central problem of taxation is that it is plainly and simply morally and legally unjustifiable. If you could challenge your government's taxation somewhere other than your government's courts, your government would be unable to produce a coherent moral or legal justification for why you must pay the taxes it levies on you.

The result of this problem is that governments must live in constant fear of a beast that lies dormant in the popular consciousness... the tax revolt. I think most people, at least in the West, are fairly well indoctrinated into believing that there exists some valid legal and moral reason for why they must pay taxes. The vast majority of those who are disgruntled with taxation and actively seek to avoid it see themselves as bad and selfish in this regard, much like a gambler who selfishly gambles his children's college money. In other words, the vast majority of tax resisters or would-be tax resisters still acquiesces to the popular indoctrination that there must exist a moral and legal justification for why they must pay taxes... they are simply hedonistic and allow their selfish impulse to override their higher moral understanding.

Governments have gotten a lot better at taxing. In the West, rioting in the streets is almost never seen as a result of tax measures (the UK tax riots in the 1990's were an unusual exception). Here are some of the tricks that our owners use to keep us busily humming away furnishing their tables.

- Debasement/inflation. This trick hardly needs explanation. Reducing the value of a legal tender money taxes holders of money stocks and wage earners whose occupation is not funded by the Prince's purchases. Modern inflation is funded through an insidious mixture outright money printing (Federal Reserve bond purchases) and private purchases of bonds. Of course, inflation is heavily regressive, as the Austrians have explained (wealth is transferred from later users of new money to the early users).

- Transaction taxation. Taxes originate in tribute. Tribute is just an extortionate demand - "Pay $X or ." When you're just collecting tribute from kings or chiefs, this is fairly straightforward since you only have to deal with a handful of people. But when you start trying to implement direct taxation, it gets a lot more complicated. If you literally implement a "everyone must pay $X or die" rule, you end up having to kill of a significant portion of your productive population... as a result, next year's haul will be a lot smaller. The problem is essentially a game of chicken. Everybody is trying to pretend they don't have the money and you (the taxer) are trying to collect the money you know they have but are trying to hide from you.

Transaction taxation makes it a lot easier to judge just how much each person can pay. You basically offer your subjects a choice: refrain from productive economic activity or pay me X% of anything that you receive. Since transactions always involve at least two parties, you have leverage with which to squeeze people and ensure honesty. Only if both people keep quiet can a transaction go unreported. So, all you have to do to ensure honesty is put everyone on the horns of the Prisoner's Dilemma - if one person doesn't report their transaction and you do, you get a reward (maybe reduced taxation).

Of course, taxing transactions has no better moral justification than direct seizure of property under the tribute system did. It just works better for the government's revenuers. Almost all forms of modern taxation are transaction taxation.

- Income tax - This tax is inherently regressive... progressive scales don't help. Those who have nothing to sell but their labor... the poor... are hardest hit by income taxation. It's always possible to cook the numbers and turn investment income into losses or break-evens through perfectly legal means. The only antidote is discretionary taxing power (something that the US used to largely refrain from but we are pretty much there, now). Discretionary taxing power gives the revenue-collection bureaucracy the power to interpret intent and assess fines and punishments on the basis of attempts to avoid the intent of the rules, even if none of the rules were actually broken.

But this sort of legal tax-evasion is only possible for those with enough accrued capital to engage in investment. The average person has naught to sell but his time, skills and talents and no accounting trickery can help him. He will pay taxes on all his labor.

- Withholding tax - This divides your annual tax burden by at least 24 (two paychecks per month), for low earners who are more likely to receive weekly paychecks, the division factor is 50. As any credit-based sales industry knows, dividing a large sum into little payments makes buyers far more likely to say "yes." In the case of taxes, it makes the serfs much less likely to revolt. Income taxes in the United States are nominally progressive but this is just a diversion to keep the masses busy talking about inconsequential details while the real heavy-lifting is done by all the other regressive taxes.

- Payroll tax - The payroll tax in the United States is one of the most perniciously regressive taxes. Basically, the purpose of the payroll tax is to permit the government to reduce the effect your "standard deduction" has on your taxable income. The payroll tax is calculated without a standard deduction. You pay payroll on all the taxable portion of your income which, for the poorer, is closer to 100% of their paycheck... and for the wealthier, is negligible. But it's for when your old and sick and the government, of course, deeply cares about you and wants to make sure you're taken care of when you're old and sick.

Combined with the withholding tax - dividing your annual tax burden by as much 50 - your effective tax burden is made to appear far, far smaller than it really is. Of course, this is all purely psychological but, in politics, perception is everything.

- Tax farming - The Roman empire is famed, and was feared, for its privatized tax collection scheme known as tax farming. Basically, a tax farmer bought the rights to collect taxes for a certain district... but he had to pay the full tax no matter what he collected. Tax entrepreneurs - called publicani - earned huge profits on the difference between what they had agreed to pay Rome and what they collected from their hapless victims. Of course, if you didn't pay Rome in full, your fate was far worse than owing Al Capone. Goodbye lap of luxury, hello Roman galley ship (rowing ships as a prison-slave under the whip to your early death).

In the US (and, I assume, all other Western countries) we have a modern variation on tax-farming... the corporate payroll. Corporate calculates your tax withholdings for the IRS and - each and every paycheck - dutifully sends in your taxes to the IRS. The costs and complexities of collecting the tax have been outsourced onto private industry. This in exchange for the cartel-like regulatory protections which the government now provides to "legitimate" businesses. Basically, this is how it works. Any business of any size (say 20+ employees) will not risk going awry of the IRS. So, they interpret the tax code as conservatively as possible and ensure that your taxes are sent in on each and every paycheck. You will almost certainly overpay each year unless you file your W-4 with creative exemption numbers (technically illegal, I believe, but a common practice). The government relies on this network of dutiful tax farmers, aka corporations - to ensure the masses are calmly, quietly and regularly paying their dues. In exchange, the government provides lavish tax incentives to the corporate class who are essentially a part of the political class. In my view, they're in the same public-private-partnership class that the Roman publicani were.

- Layered taxation - You pay taxes at State and Federal (and, in some locations, Local) levels. These layered taxes, added together, pinch pretty badly. But opposing any one of them, politically, makes you seem like a miser. "What, you oppose paying three dollars a day to your local city government to police the streets, fight fires, feed starving homeless people and make books available to one and all??? You Scrooge, you!"

- Duties, tariffs, wholesale, retail taxes. These tax the supply chain for consumer goods, essentially "hiding" the tax from the consumer. Even a retail tax, which is right there, is a hidden tax once you buy more than one item at a time... who keeps track of how much taxes they're paying on which items??

- VAT taxes. This is European but is on its way to the US, judging by the new 1099 rules (any transaction over $600 must be reported to the IRS). Essentially, you can think of it this way, every business is required to send in all its receipts to the government to "prove" its actual outlays. This closes all "loopholes" which businesses have access to by being able to assess the value of their own inventory or non-monetary costs (such as capital depreciation).

- Legal monopolies and cartels. The inflated profits earned from these enterprises (which must, in turn, pay their master to whom they owe their very existence) are a tax in and of themselves. Phone companies (now, cell phone companies), car companies, electric companies, road-construction companies... basically, all the big-box producers of goods and services who enjoy legal and regulatory privileges as a result of their "scale." These companies are essentially pseudo-governmental agencies and their fees constitute a significant source of government revenues.

- Economic imperialism. This is more with respect to the US but other countries do it, too. Basically, you use "free-trade" agreements to force smaller countries to buy your "cheaper" products. This goes hand-in-hand with the tax-farming nature of corporations since modern, corporate tax-farming centralizes revenues in the producers, not the consumers. The more things being produced here, the more tax revenues there are to siphon.

Inflation-exportation is also part of economic imperialism. "Use our fiat currency as the 'reserve' for your fiat currency... or else." Keeping major commodities - like oil - denominated in your currency also helps force up demand for that currency, giving additional headroom for expansion of the supply of that currency (money printing).

Who ever said the Pentagon's budget is a waste???

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oregon "terror" plot

I found the number 13 in it. If you calculate a standard "life path number" on the date of the attack, you get 13:

11/26/2010
11+26=37
2010+37 = 2047
2+0+4+7=13

Now, the 13 should reduce to 4 (1+3) but I find it interesting that there's a 13 along the way. Accident? Maybe. But this whole "plot" is just an incarnation of the FBI's own dark imagination.

Monday, November 22, 2010

More numerology

33 is an important number to Freemasonry. I can't seem to get a clear picture of why. It could be nothing more than that Jesus was ostensibly crucified at 33 years of age. The masons seem to be pretty eclectic about where they get their symbols from.

In any case, here's some places I've found the number 33.

11/22/1963 - JFK assassinated

11+22 = 33

9/11/2001 - WTC attacks

9*11 = 99
2+0+0+1 = 3
99/3 = 33

Admittedly, these are "data-mining" but it's not torturous data-mining.

The Wikipedia article for the number 33 claims that 33 is somehow related to the Star of David but doesn't explain how. There are 13 points in the star, 24 edges and 12 triangles. Sums and differences of these yields 1, 11, 25, 36 and 37. I see no relation to 33. The only way I can squeeze 33 out of the star is to consider it as two triangles super-imposed - each with 3 points (or sides) yielding 3, 3. However, 3, 3 is not the same as the number 33. The highest degree of freemasonry is not 3, 3 it is 33. Argh.

Prince William's birthday is June 21st. In Britain, that would be written 21/6. 6x6x6 = 216

Creepy, huh?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gang signs and major news events

There were 33 miners trapped in the Chilean mine collapse. Fine, 33 is just one number among many. But it happened on Aug. 5th and 8+5 = 13. I'm becoming less and less inclined to believe in coincidences in dates and other numbers in major news events.

This got me thinking about something I've been pondering for a while. If governments are basically just gangs that happen to have captured the moral high-ground of legitimacy (Rothbardian theory of government), then it makes sense that they might have gang-signs. Flags, emblems and other visible signs of affiliation have long served the same roles that gang signs serve: marking territory, vouching loyalty, intimidating victims, warding off enemies, and so on.

For example, this fellow insightfully noticed that the number of dead in the plane-crash that killed the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, and quite a few other high-ranking Polish officials was initially (correctly) reported to be around 95 persons but later (incorrectly) revised up to 132! What kind of journalistic mistake is that? More importantly, he noticed the occurrence of the number 32... 132.

The numbers 13, 32 and 33 are all well-known to have significance to the Freemasons. Now, I'm not so uncritical as to assume that this means that the Freemasons are, in fact, responsible for these acts. Perhaps the numbers also have meaning to other secret societies. Or, perhaps it's the fact that the numbers are simply well-known to have significance that they can serve as a signal - to those who know to look for such signals - that this was a staged or covered-up event.

I posted on 9/11 and numerology sometime back, just for fun. However, the more I look into this, the more I think there's actually some substance to this and it doesn't end with numbers. Shapes of things, such as the Pentagon, also matter. Symbols and shapes from esoteric societies - such as Bohemian Grove - can be found in TV shows (the interior decor of every other sitcom happens to have an owl hanging on the wall! Check out Frank and Marie's kitchen in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond... I've also noticed owls in George Lopez and Everybody Hates Chris), music, even corporate logos. Just search YouTube, there's dozens of catchy videos (this is my favorite) illustrating my point. Are such references just large-cap versions of those designs left behind by spray-painting taggers?

Anyway, I'll be combing any big news story that hits the wire for this kind of thing. Call me crazy if it makes you feel any better.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Astounding court decision

The supposedly "liberal" 9th circuit court threw out a lawsuit by five men who were kidnapped and tortured by CIA - the lawsuit was not even against the government, it was against a private corporation for its role in aiding and abetting the government in the commission of these crimes. The majority judges have essentially hinted that the victims in this case should just sue for hush-money and be done with it:

"In the 55-page opinion, replete with ambivalence, the six judges voting for dismissal pointed out that the plaintiffs could still pursue compensation or redress from the U.S. government or Congress. They alluded to the Japanese Americans interned during World War II who were later paid reparations for the violation of their civil rights."

Yeah, you were tortured. No, we won't permit you to sue any private corporation that assisted the US government in torturing you because then we'd have to dig through the dirty actions of the CIA-military-industrial-crime complex. Instead, why don't you just file a lawsuit against the US government itself which will deny you a trial on the same grounds of "national security" but may just - if you get lucky - pay you some hush money (of course, don't expect the checks to arrive any sooner than a decade or two from now).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

US citizen added to terror kill-list

Here. Al-Awlaki is probably a piece of shit but he's probably also a former CIA asset. In any case, it's all about precedent and once the precedent has been set that the government can do X, then when the government subsequently re-interprets the precedent to include X-squared, the law goes right out the window. "We can kill a US citizen without due process in this one instance" becomes "We can kill US citizens without due process, we've done it before, it's the law." We are definitely entering an eclipse of human progress. I hope people do come to their senses before they drag society all the way back to the Dark Ages.

No, they don't think of us as human-cattle

As if the schools were not already merely glorified meat-processing centers, now they want to install chips in our kids. Where do they make the people who think this kind of stuff is a good idea? That's all I want to know!

Warrantless cell tracking

They can track your every move. Not that they couldn't before, just that one government employee (judge) has rubber-stamped baseless snooping and voyeurism by other government employees. Surprise!

Yet more oil accidents...

I search "oil" in Google News at least once a week. There are more oil accidents since my last blog post. Mexico's third-largest oil refinery exploded today. An oil rig off the coast of China has begun listing, with two people apparently trapped.

Hopefully, these are just some of the ordinary, random, uncorrelated accidents that, of course, occur in the oil industry every year.

Friday, September 3, 2010

*Another* Gulf explosion... I called it!

OK, I didn't call the explosion, but I did say the Deepwater Horizon explosion was fishy and I smelled funny business. How many "coincidences" are required before sabotage is considered a respectable hypothesis? Now we have another explosion. Come on, this is just blatant! The author of the linked article notes (apparently not seeing any irony in his statement), "Just as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as worked its way out of the news, a new explosion has taken place." [Emphasis added]

A quick Google search shows that the oil rig company (Mariner Energy) is in the midst of a big merger deal with Apache Corporation which has also bought up a bunch of stakes from BP on the cheap because BP needed the cash to pay for costs incurred by the Deepwater Horizon spill.

That gets a big, fat "Hmmmmmmm" from me (complete with eyebrows raised). Oh, and don't forget the mysterious exploding box of chocolates. Houston seems to be a nexus of corruption.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Voyeur vans for government

Oh my. Where do they make the people who take these kind of security measures seriously? I mean, do they really believe they're Superman fighting Brainiac? Check out this super-creepy promo video.

My only thought is this - if governments can own these things, then everybody can. I'll be waiting for Backscatter Bang Bus on Blu-Ray or you could do your very own ride-along with Ray's Backscatter Experience Inc. permitting the ordinary voyeur to immerse himself in the full-spectrum experience of technological peeping.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Interesting correlation

I've been puzzling for some time over why gold took off when it did. Looking at this chart:

historic gold price chart

... you can see that gold "turned a corner" in the second half of 2005. This is a well-defined corner, the kind of corner that you see in the charts of the Great Depression or other significant economic events. Yet the global economy did not begin melting down until the last half of 2008, nearly three years down the road from that 2005 corner.

So, I asked myself, what was happening in mid-2005? Were there any significant events that year? It turns out that there was a significant event... the 7/7 London train bombing.

If you accept the hypothesis that the gold market is heavily manipulated and if you accept the hypothesis that 9/11 and 7/7 were likely false-flag events, then it's not a big leap to suggest a correlation between 7/7 and the gold price turning a corner in 2005 at almost exactly the same time.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interesting spin on Schiff's loss

Here's a piece celebrating Schiff's loss in Connecticut (McMahon's "victory") as a win for anti-establishment sentiment (dare I say "Tea Party"?). Of course, McMahon spent $24 million of her own cold, hard cash just to win the primary. Schiff reportedly spent $1 million.

The narrative I've heard that makes the most sense to me is that the RNC realized that Schiff really could beat their boy in Connecticut, Simmons. Terrified at the thought of a Senatorial Ron Paul, they sent out an SOS to all the Connecticut big-shots, looking for somebody that could do a "big, big favor", and Vince McMahon's wife answered the call. The McMahons are not millionaires, they are billionaires. That $24M was pocket change and will be repaid a hundred-fold, one way or the other.

At this point, it doesn't matter whether Linda McMahon wins or loses. Mission Accomplished: Schiff has been neutralized.

A real hero

This guy stood up to the FBI's terrifying Holy Office-style powers in the form of the gagging NSL. He's got some huevos. Hopefully, this is the first chink in the new police state's seemingly impenetrable armor.

Senator Stevens dies in air crash... funny business?

Here. Whenever someone important dies of something other than natural causes, my suspicions are automatically raised. Interesting that Sen. Stevens was convicted in 2008 of charges that were then later overturned but only after his conviction caused him to lose his re-election. Was he supposed to go away but was just as much of a nuisance out of office as he had been while in office? It's a thought.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kids these days!

One of my favorite quotes, ever:

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless
beyond words.

When I was a boy, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of
elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of
restraint.

- Hesiod, Eighth Century B.C.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Black market nukes: Iran saber-rattling is a farce

I was watching Gerald Celente today and Iran came up. For some reason, the thought of buying a nuclear weapon on the black market flashed into my head. If Iran were intent on "wiping Israel off the map" - as the imperialists claim - why wouldn't they just buy nukes off the black market? They have a fully operational intelligence service. Its acronym is, ironically, MISIRI. So, if drug lords can buy these things, surely a nationally funded intelligence service can. Here's a YouTube video discussing the trek of some freelance journalists to hunt down black market nukes in Bulgaria. It might be a bit of a tall tale but it can't be far from the truth. These nukes are far from accounted for.

It just goes to show that the saber-rattling from Washington DC & Co. is all a big farce put forward by the war-mongers to justify the war they want.

Hmmm, another Operation Seaspray?

Check this out, from 1993. Something similar happened back in 1951 and 1952, the US Navy was responsible for that outbreak. Given the dead-end of the investigation in Milwaukie, my first suspicion is that this was a public experiment.

Lemonade stand busted...

Thank God for the government. What is interesting to me is that people can comprehend that the State's cartel enforcers are coercive bullies only in the instance of a little girl selling lemonade without a "license." But why is it only heartstring-pulling little girls innocently selling lemonade who get a pass to break the rules? Logically, there is no difference between her and, say, a Mexican burrito wagon. Both are looking to make a little money by providing a good which is - they hope - demanded by consumers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Oh my... Google, CIA to "predict the future"

Here's a little gem. This goes to reaffirm my running hypothesis that there is some serious coziness between Google and CIA (or US intelligence more broadly). In principle, I don't see anything wrong with the idea but I think they've got it turned around backwards. They want to predict what you and I are going to be doing. That's easy. We'll wake up in the morning, go to work, eat lunch, go back to work, go to the gym, go home, watch TV, eat dinner, relax and then go to bed. Repeat. Peons have very predictable lives. A much more interesting (and useful) problem to solve is what the wealthiest and most powerful individuals will be doing with themselves. What choices will they next make? For that, you'll likely need a crystal ball.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

James Turk spins a plausible hypothesis for BIS wierdness

Here. Of course, this was fishy from the beginning. I would add that this disclosure was completely voluntary and likely calculated to ward off further prying by feigning full disclosure from the beginning. If so, then this is probably just the tip of a fairly sizable iceberg. What other agreements go on between the BIS and central banks, either to manipulate the gold price or (what is the same thing) to push currencies up or down?

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'm not buying Wikileaks anymore

There have been suggestions from the more conspiracy-theoretic end of the spectrum that Wikileaks may be a CIA front. After this latest "leak", I think it's pretty obvious. I saw this news item on CNN which is what tipped me off that it must be "safe for public consumption." If it's safe for public consumption, it sure isn't a leak that's worth a damn. Why would someone go to all the risk to themselves and their career to submit Secret clearance docs that get handed around to thousands of people? It doesn't make sense. And why would the only really sensitive documents finger the ISI? Isn't the point of leaking to blow the whistle on your boss?? This seems like a rather transparent attempt to put public pressure on ISI to reduce their support for the Taliban while pretending that it was an uncontrolled "leak". What also doesn't make sense is where Wikileaks gets its money. If Wikileaks really were the grassroots organization it makes itself out to be, it seems to me they'd have to be hosted on peer-to-peer networks since it's expensive to maintain servers and bandwidth to permit millions of people to download videos and libraries-worth of documents from your website.

And Wikileaks's Top-10 successes aren't anything to get excited about. Probably the most substantial item was the CRU emails that were supposedly "hacked" by Russian teenagers or something. I have a working hypothesis that the April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion was actually a retaliatory strike against whoever was really behind the CRU leaks. If CIA is aligned with US oil interests (likely), then this makes sense... the Deepwater Horizon explosion would materially damage offshore drilling in the Gulf and put the hurt on the interests backing CIA that defected and derailed the Copenhagen agreement.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kingpin theory of power elites

I enjoy power-elite analysis. I did some amateur research on the JFK assassination last weekend and have been piecing together all sorts of decade-spanning conspiracy theories for some time. These theories exist in a sort of "quantum superposition" since there is so little solid information and evidence to work with.

When dealing with such difficult problems, it's helpful to use metaphors to keep things straight in your head. One such metaphor I've recently adopted I call "Kingpin theory."

The Kingpin is a character in the Spiderman comics. He has no superpowers but he is Spiderman's arch-nemesis, more powerful than all the other villains who do have superpowers. The Kingpin's power comes from his mastery of human nature, his willingness and ability to manipulate people by threatening their loved ones and his uncanny ability to remain at least one step ahead of everyone else.

In the real world, there are villains and then there are Kingpins. Pablo Escobar was a villain. Hank Paulsen is a Kingpin.

Now, when Kingpin theory is applied to politics, an obvious problem arises. The public doesn't like villains of any sort, Kingpin or otherwise. They want their leaders to be kissing babies and making absurd promises in stump speeches. So, the Kingpins have two options. The first option is to become a Twoface Kingpin (Twoface is a Batman villain, interesting in his own right). As the name implies, a Twoface Kingpin is like an inside-out Sour Patch Kid... sweet on the outside and sour on the inside. The other option is to become a Puppet Master or Corruptor.

Twoface Kingpins are relatively easy to identify. Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the cornucopia of pre-20th century tyrants. Basically, any autocrat is a kind of Twoface Kingpin, though the more unmasked his power, the less of a Twoface he is (whether this is a virtue or not is highly debatable). Puppet Masters, on the other hand, are much harder to find. Robber Baron theory basically takes the working hypothesis that the richest of the rich (say, the top 0.5%) are the Puppet Masters who control everything. This might be a good first approximation but it lacks depth. People in positions of formal power, but of lesser means, wield significant, real power. Consider the Defense Secretary. He might be a millionaire, but his wealth is nothing compared to Bill Gates. Yet I have no doubt the Defense Secretary wields a hell of a lot more power than Bill Gates does.

What makes Puppet Masters more powerful than Twofaces is that they are not easily identifiable targets, like Twoface Kingpins. Puppet Masters hide behind the scenes, pulling strings.

The most powerful Kingpins of all, in my theory, are Godfathers. A Godfather is a patriarch of a wealthy and powerful family. A Godfather family might have many Kingpins within it. David Rockefeller is a Godfather. Evelyn de Rothschild is a Godfather.

The formal power structures of law, government and the market create power centers or Hilltops. The object of power elite analysis is to understand the visible events of the times in terms of a struggle between Kingpins for control of Hilltops. Hilltops are strategic positions of power within the social fabric. The Presidency is a Hilltop. The papacy is a Hilltop.

Twoface Kingpins seek to personally occupy Hilltops. They engage in "King of the Hill" struggles versus other Twoface Kingpins. This is a first-order approximation of an election campaign between two candidates for elected office or the power-politics involved in clawing one's way up to the Papacy.

Puppet Masters sit behind the scenes pulling strings. A puppet-string is anything which acts as leverage to get someone to do what you want. Maybe it's a tit-for-tat business deal, special legal privileges, access to natural resources, the threat of blackmail, whatever.

Godfathers are the most powerful Kingpins of all. For this reason, they rarely seek to occupy hilltops themselves. Rather, they usually act as Puppet Masters and delegate the role of occupying a hilltop to Lackeys or they act as a Corruptor and seek to buy those who already occupy hilltops by corrupting them. As an aside, old-fashioned kings during the era of absolute monarchy (say, Louis XIV) are examples of that rare breed, Twoface Godfathers. A Twoface Godfather can't exist in the era of modern demagoguery, mass media and mass politics because as soon as a Godfather reveals himself to the public for what he is, it is a simple matter for other Kingpins to take him down through populism and class envy. Read about Nelson Rockefeller's political career to see what happens when a Godfather tries to reveal himself.

Wealthy, powerful families with a long history are Dynasties. Dynasties have a proven track record of holding Hilltops and maintaining their power, through thick and thin. Prior to WWI, there were 22 monarchies. After WWII, there were nine and the Windsors were one of those monarchical families. The Windsors are a Dynasty (Elizabeth is the "Godfather"), the Rothschilds are a Dynasty, the Rockefellers are probably a Dynasty, the Kennedys tried and failed to become a Dynasty.

The ultimate unit of loyalty is blood relation, that is, the Family. The Family is the power-base of the Godfather and is what makes a Godfather so much more powerful than a mere Puppet Master. The Godfather not only pulls strings and gets Lackeys to do his bidding on his Hilltops, he can place his brothers, cousins, uncles and other blood relatives in positions of great trust. This permits the Godfather to force-multiply himself vis-a-vis other Puppet Masters. A Puppet Master without a Family can only really trust himself. While blood does betray blood from time to time (and more often when there is a struggle over the Patriarchy Hilltop), there are biological reasons that make the Family less likely to betray its own than for two friends or buddies to betray each other. Human biology dictates a greater degree of loyalty between people carrying common genes than between people who are not.

Basically, the Family can introduce the division of labor into the business of being a Kingpin. All other Kingpins have to self-produce all aspects of the Kingpin business. This is what makes Dynasties possible and this is why Dynasties are the tip-top pinnacle of power.

But Dynasties have competition: fraternal organizations or Brotherhoods. A Brotherhood is essentially a gang. Gangs use the primitive act of a blood ritual (often murder, like the Aryan Brotherhood's "Blood-in, Blood-out") to initiate new members. This initiation process is psychologically powerful and parasitically leverages pieces of human psychology that evolved long ago for surviving attacks by wild animals and foreign invaders. Once initiated, members of a Brotherhood can be extremely loyal. National militaries, secret societies, intelligence agencies, street gangs, crime rings, and so on are examples of Brotherhoods which typically command a high degree of loyalty from almost all their members. However, the command-post of a Brotherhood is itself a Hilltop and is, therefore, subject to King-of-the-Hill struggles between Kingpins for control. In the end, Brotherhoods can be extremely powerful but in a head-to-head match, a solid Dynasty will win every time.

I don't really have a summary, this is about as far as I've thought this out.

Exploding box of chocolates... BP connection?

Here's an astounding news item: an "oil executive's wife" in Houston has been targeted by an exploding box of chocolates. I would desperately like to know if this "oil executive" is in any way connected with BP.

Godfather Part IV?

Why does government exist?

Rothbard and Hoppe use the idea of a "natural order" against which to criticize the State. One of the difficulties of this approach is that it makes an arbitrary distinction between what is "natural" and what is not - why is it the case that the State is unnatural and what does it even mean for something to be "unnatural", given methodological naturalism? Whether the government is "natural" or not, the question remains: why does it exist? Here's my video on what the government is.

My current view regarding why government exists:

  • The essence of the State is the accepted or legitimized double-standard
  • This is puzzling since humans generally find double-standards revolting... the Golden Rule is a culturally universal ethical principle
  • My solution is as follows:
  • Humans evolved from primates which largely engage in alpha-male mating patterns
  • Alpha-male mating separates the males into two categories, the commoners and the elite (alpha)
  • The costs of reproduction were shared communally (pregnancy and birth costs borne solely by the mother)
  • The human nuclear family (culturally universal), on the other hand, evolved to "privatize" the costs of reproduction (Hoppe), making reproduction more efficient
  • This privatization occurred by resolving the problem of paternity uncertainty with a combination of monogamy and concealed fertility*
  • In alpha-male mating, paternity uncertainty was resolved by granting a monopoly on mating privileges to the fittest male
  • The congenital tolerance that the vast majority of people have for the State is a vestige of our alpha-male morality, where everyone accepted as a matter of course that one special male would be permitted the privilege of reproducing while all other males would be prohibited from having this privilege

I believe this explains why a State can exist at all. Try going to a national park and blatantly breaking one of the rules with a large crowd of people standing around. Within seconds, you will hear loud grumbles or even threats of calling a ranger. This "crowd morality" is the result of an instant, visceral reaction on the part of people within the crowd to the effect "Who does he think he is? I guess he thinks he doesn't have to follow the same rules as everybody else. We each have to obey the rules in order for this park to work. Somebody needs to put him in his place."

But when a police officer engages in blatantly illegal or immoral behavior - even on videotape - it's almost as if a fnord has been inserted into the brains of the public. What is it about a uniform and association with the territorial monopolist of law and force that causes people not only to not apply their ordinary, visceral reaction to a double-standard but to apply that reaction to anyone who points out the double-standard?!? I think the answer is my alpha-male vestige theory, or something like it.

*Biologists believe that human females have concealed fertility - unlike our primate ancestors whose fertility is advertised - to make it hard to engage in cuckoldry, that is, accepting support from a less fit male (to get the benefit of his labor) while reproducing with a more fit male (to give her offspring the benefit of his excellent genes)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Live Free or Die = Collectivism

I've noticed a collectivist under-current in some of the thinking of folks involved in the Free-State Project and other libertarians. This collectivism is subtle but real.

Sure, "live free or die" as a personal motto or ethic is ultimately an expression of individualism. But many libertarians incorrectly diagnose the ills of modern statist society to be due to a lack of willingness to die for one's liberty on the part of the masses. They are asserting something along the lines of "if only people were more generally willing to die for their liberty, we'd all be truly free." The idea is that a tyrant can't dominate a people composed of individuals who are mostly willing to die rather than be enslaved to the tyrant.

But I think this is subtle or stealth collectivism because dying for one's liberty is not really dying for one'sown liberty (you can't be free when you're dead). Instead, dying for liberty is dying for the liberty of others. And such self-sacrificial acts - while laudable in their own right - are not performed in one's own interests but in the interests of the collective. Those who subscribe to the theory that we are not free because enough people are not willing to die for freedom ultimately have no faith in the self-organizing nature of society composed of uncoordinated individuals pursuing their own, independent ends.

Even if it's just an expression of one's personal credo or motto, I still cringe every time I read the phrase, "Live Free or Die."

Monday, July 19, 2010

So, I spent all weekend watching JFK assassination videos and doing armchair JFK assassination research. Here are my notes:

1) Most of the debate seems to rage around trying to get evidence or proof that JFK's assassination was a conspiracy. This is silly because it grants - from the outset - the bizarre assumption made by the official theories that political figures are as likely to die at the hands of "mad attention-seekers" as they are to be assassinated by their enemies who actually stand to benefit. How many people are insane enough to think that the electric chair is a fair trade for "being remembered" by history, even if in infamy? And of those people how many are resourceful enough to pierce the security perimeter of the President of the United States? Kennedy was threatened by Richard Pavlick in 1960 after Nixon lost the election and, by all accounts, Pavlick was a lone nut. But all we know of his "assassination attempts" are his own tall tales and 10 sticks of dynamite.

2) Of course Kennedy was assassinated by his enemies. Barring extraordinary, overwhelming evidence of a crazed, lone gunman, the "assassinated by his political enemies" theory has the advantage of fitting with 99.99% of all other recorded murders of powerful men throughout history. It's like if a top Mafia boss got shot and the police said it was a "stranger homicide". It's possible, but extremely unlikely. And, of course, this leaves aside the possibility of foreign attack instead of internal coup d'etat. Either way, "crazed, lone gunman seeking attention and to be remembered (in infamy) by history" is by far the least plausible explanation*.

3) It is doubtful that LBJ was the mastermind of Kennedy's death. Given a conspiracy, we can reason that he almost certainly had foreknowledge and was likely involved to one degree or another (since he stood to benefit the most publicly), but we know that, long before Obama, US Presidents have not been much more than puppet figureheads for the real, unseen political powers. Assuming LBJ was able to orchestrate, on his own, the necessary measures to take out Kennedy, those "in the know" would have a pretty good inkling of who was finally responsible for the President's death and, being outsiders now, would have a huge incentive to go after Johnson and get him impeached. Instead, the opposite happened, every government person and agency involved in the case and "in the know" covered up evidence, altered evidence, silenced or ignored witnesses and turned a blind eye while dozens of witnesses important to solving the murder were systematically eliminated.

4) JFK has more confessed assassins than Mel Gibson has racist slurs. The attention-seekers are those claiming to be JFK's assassin(s) - a much less risky venture than actually assassinating a sitting US President. As a matter of our social and political history and future, however, the identity of the trigger-man (or men) is relatively unimportant. The important point is trying to identify the mastermind(s), that is, the power center or alliance of power centers which moved to have JFK killed.

5) A popular hypothesis is that JFK was murdered because he or the Kennedys generally had "gone rogue", that is, he or they were acting in the true interests of the American public and against the interests of the Establishment. This hypothesis (with the slight modification that Kennedy was acting in the Kennedy-family's interests, not the interests of the US public except where the two happened to coincide) carries some weight in my opinion for two reasons. First, the cover-up was across the board, no one tried to make hay out of JFK's death by suggesting political funny business. Second, the long string of assassinations and attempted assassinations of Kennedys. The Kennedys must have made very powerful enemies but failed to sufficiently protect themselves, either on their own cognizance or by aligning with a more powerful interest than themselves. Or, perhaps JFK ruined the whole Kennedy family by betraying his sponsors once he got into office. If so, the Kennedy family would have been forever a pariah to the Establishment... something along the lines of "you can't trust a Kennedy."

6) Kennedy did several things in office, the combination of which probably united otherwise antagonistic power centers around one goal - eliminating Kennedy. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." While I don't think EO 11110 was really that important from the point-of-view of the Fed, it was the opposite of the direction the Fed wanted to go (which direction Nixon finally went in 1971). So, the Fed and its allies (Bank of England, Bundesbank, Bank of International Settlements, and so on) would have not been sad to see Kennedy go. They might have even pitched in some black funding or something (when you can legally print money, this is quite easy to do). He had enemies in the Mafia but I think it is a big mistake to think the Mafia could have taken out the President. If you subscribe to the gang theory of government**, it just doesn't make sense. It's like saying some small-time crack dealers could unite and take out a Mafia boss. Just not possible, they're outgunned, outsmarted, out-organized, out-everything. CIA may have been the ops guys and they may have sub-contracted out to Mafia assassins who were the most experienced in covert assassinations in broad daylight in American cities but that would be as far as it goes.

JFK had threatened to dismantle CIA and it's clear that, after the Bay of Pigs, there was real bad blood between the Executive and CIA. People say, "The CIA killed Kennedy" and while this may be true, I doubt very much that CIA masterminded JFK's death, that is, I doubt CIA was the power-center "finally responsible" for JFK's death. CIA and the FBI have tons and tons of bad blood but the FBI was in charge of the investigation. Surely, the FBI would have taken the opportunity to knock CIA down a few pegs on the power ladder and surely CIA would have been aware that the FBI would do this, from the outset. Assuming CIA involvement, someone, somewhere had to have been able to get CIA and the FBI to play nice.

But I think the biggest single motive is located in the Pentagon. Again, I'm skeptical that the Pentagon were the "masterminds" of the JFK assassination but I think they may have been the real motivational powerhouse. Here's a quote from Wikipedia's article on LBJ:

"At Kennedy's death, there were 16,000 American military advisors in Vietnam. As President, Lyndon Johnson immediately reversed his predecessor's order to withdraw 1,000 military personnel by the end of 1963 with his own NSAM #273 on November 26, 1963. Johnson expanded the numbers and roles of the American military following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (less than three weeks after the Republican Convention of 1964, which had nominated Barry Goldwater for President).

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the President the exclusive right to use military force without consulting the Senate, was based on a false pretext, as Johnson later admitted.[60] It was Johnson who began America's direct involvement in the ground war in Vietnam. By 1968, over 550,000 American soldiers were inside Vietnam; in 1967 and 1968 they were being killed at the rate of over 1,000 a month."

So, we have in this order:

  • 16,000 US servicemen in Vietnam as "advisors"
  • On Oct. 11, Kennedy orders 1,000 soldiers withdrawn from Vietnam by the end of 1963 in NSAM 263
  • On Nov. 22, JFK shot
  • 4 days later, JFK's order to withdraw 1,000 men from Vietnam reversed by LBJ in NSAM 273
  • Aug. 1964, Gulf of Tonkin incident (false flag/fabricated incident)
  • Deployments to Vietnam go through the stratosphere, reaching 550,000+ men in less than 5 years, see this PDF (page 9) for a chart showing the "hockey stick" from 1963 onward in troop levels in Vietnam
While the Pentagon is the operational arm of the Military Industrial Complex, the power center that killed JFK had to have its locus outside formal government while having significant control of and access to formal government. We understand the confluence of interests between central bankers and the war machine for generating profits through the expansion of the money supply and funding of the war machine, so JFK's murder is likely a confluence of several, very powerful interests who had independently decided "enough is enough, Kennedy has become a nuisance and has got to go" and decided to work together for the time being to eliminate him.

7) Kennedy's assassination was obviously supposed to be very public but in a controlled way. After all, if they just wanted him dead, they could have shot down Air Force One on a cloudy day and declared it an accident. But he was shot in broad daylight, surrounded by cameras though not professional news cameras. All the film from these cameras was immediately seized and effectively locked up for almost a decade before the first pictures started to trickle out, damaged and likely altered. My theory on this is that there was a script for how the assassination was supposed to go and something went wrong. Oswald was supposed to be the patsy while some real professionals took Kennedy out in a way that would be consistent with Kennedy being shot by Oswald who would then be painted a "lone nut assassin" while the amateur photos could be splashed across televisions and the front-pages of newspapers to decry the "new extremism" that had taken over US politics. Governor Connally's first statement on camera includes this little memorized diatribe about extremism in American politics and how it is transforming things, and so on. This was clearly scripted. But something went wrong and the video evidence was too inconsistent with the official theory of Oswald-the-crazed-assassin which had been immediately put out to the public on the very day of the assassination and then sent with Oswald to his grave two days later.

There were no commercial media cameras trained on Kennedy at the time because that part of his route was considered unimportant by the media. One question I've always had is why were there so few people on each side of the assassination bottleneck? I mean, there's this huge, thronging crowd just a hundred feet away, and then a few stragglers. The crowd was being held back by policemen, obviously, so why were those few people permitted through? Zapruder, Nix, Babushka Lady, Tina Towner, Moorman and the guy filming Kennedy from the curbside visible in the Zapruder frames 343-358 (does anyone know who this is???! his film would be 100x better quality than Zapruder's, he was standing right on the curb!), among others. Hell, it seems that roughly 50% of Dallas residents must have had amateur cameras if the people on either side of the assassination bottleneck are a representative sample of Dallas residents circa 1963. All these folks claim to have had no knowledge of anything but then they sure are some cool customers, calmly documenting the historic, defining moment of the US government while all hell is breaking loose with gunshots and cars and motorcycles speeding off, sirens wailing, people yelling, etc.

8) The Rybka video shows the Secret Service bodyguard detail being called off the rear bumper of the Presidential limousine while back at the airport, 7 miles from Dealey plaza. Just an interesting little detail. :-)

*Can anyone say, "19 crazed, suicidal 'religious extremists' seeking to get 72 virgins in heaven by committing mass suicide/homicide..."

**Basically, that the government is the most powerful gang of all and the President the biggest, most powerful Don of all

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quick note on the oil spill...

A gaggle of Senators including Chuckie Schumer are clamoring that BP may have been involved in the repatriation of the Lockerbie bomber back to Libya as a concession for removing drilling restrictions off the coast of Libya. Clearly, there's some kind of political tug-of-war going on under the surface.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oil Spill Must Be Sabotage

OK, now I'm sure that the gulf oil spill was sabotage... a "Presidential commission" is going to "investigate" the explosion. Whenever the government insists on investigating something, you know there's corruption. My current wild-guess theory is that this strike is payback against whoever shot down the Copenhagen summit.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Silicon Valley: Hotbed of Cold War Defense Spending

Just watched this fascinating lecture on the "secret" history of Silicon Valley. One of the most spectacular facts revealed at the end of the lecture (spoiler alert) is that the godfather of the computer chip, William Shockley - whose proteges Bill Noyce and Gordon Moore founded Intel (full disclosure: I work for Intel) - was heavily involved in the signals intelligence community, working for the Army Air Force during WWII and later working on projects related to the development of ICBMs.

The lecturer also discusses the incestuous relationship between Stanford University and the US intelligence agencies that developed out of WWII, spearheaded by Frederick Terman, a big electronics spook type in academic research. Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, were educated at Stanford University. I have another blog post discussing possible incest between Google and CIA here.

Specifically, I am suspicious of this whole "the government was taken by surprise by the Internet" narrative that has been growing since the 90's. Some people want to say the government invented the Internet. That's a ridiculous caricature of ARPANet and a failure to comprehend the essence of the Web (user content). But on the other hand, liberals and libertarians tend to characterize the Web as something beyond the government's control and which largely blind-sided the government. The early, heavy investment of the MIC into electronic intelligence and weapons casts this narrative into doubt. Did the MIC really develop such a massive blind-spot that they forgot to take an active interest in semiconductor, digital and software technologies? I find that hard to believe... and what better way to get out in front of the problem of the information revolution than to use a portion of the defense budget to fund the start-up of the premier search engine on the Web? As the lecturer notes, Frederick Terman pioneered and has as his lasting legacy university-industry partnerships... Stanford-Google... or perhaps Stanford-Google-CIA-NSA, maybe?

Leaving aside the potentially nefarious population-control interests of the Federal intelligence agencies would have in a company like Google, Google is in a unique position to collect and collate all sorts of tidbits of information from individuals all over the globe. Anyone who uses Google - foreign diplomats, foreign spies residing within the US, and so on - is potentially yielding information useful to intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies when they type in search terms. Google could very well be the U2 of the Web.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The latest on my views on Somalia

P.T. Leeson, an economist of the Austrian bent, wrote an article a few years ago titled, "Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse" where he presents a persuasive case that much of the world would be better off without a government, judging from the case of Somalia. Since the time he wrote this article, things have changed a great deal.

The existence of even one government, especially a democratic government, is a threat to freedom everywhere. Hoppe says something to the effect that, in a private law society, crime insurance agencies would charge higher premiums in areas that are next to government-controlled territory. He reasons that government employees would likely be categorized, for crime insurance purposes, the same as other criminals... it would be difficult for a government employee to live in a decent neighborhood in free territory because no one would want to be neighbors with him because their premiums would go up.

What's amazing is that Somalia's recent history has really borne this conception out. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Barre regime, warlords took control of Somalia. The US tried to "correct" this "problem", through UN agency, via our involvement there during the early 90's. We got run out on a rail by Aidid culminating in our withdrawal after the tragic Black Hawk Down incident. For some time during the 90's, UN intervention in Somalia was extremely limited and the Somali economy began to heal, with education rates and nourishment increasing at an extremely rapid pace (check out PT Leeson's paper on this, Better Off Stateless). In 2006, Ethiopia, then, tried to invade but they were repelled. This resulted in a splintering of the ICU, and the new proto-governmental group called al-Shabaab.

The most recent battles over Mogadishu have been the result of -- surprise surprise! -- the attempt to impose a "real state" on Somalia from above, by the miserably underfunded AU and its "AMISOM" troops, mostly rerun Ethiopians who got their butts kicked out last time they tried to invade. After months of not being paid, some of the AMISOM soldiers have sold their weapons to buy food, which should give you an idea of the level of willpower the AU has in this mission. The al-Shabaab and other ICU groups smell blood in the water and the AU's meddling in Somalia has created a "capture the flag" atmosphere in Somalia... each group maneuvering itself to be in the best position to project governmental power if and when a government is "created" - aka "imposed" - in Somalia. But most remarkable is that the Somalis have treated the UN/AU's "Transitional Federal Government" as a mortal threat rather than buying into the benign administrative cloak with which the TFG has tried to wrap itself. One TFG emissary to the UN said (paraphrase), "They are trying to kill this baby in the cradle. al-Shabaab knows that if this thing takes hold it will become a government and they want to prevent that from happening." But, of course, it is the local al-Shabaab - not the AU's Ethiopian troops protecting a tiny garrison in Mogadishu called the "Transitional Federal Government" - who are solely to blame for the killing of innocents in Mogadishu. I'm not saying al-Shabaab gets a cart blanche by virtue of being local... if al-Shabaab kills innocents, that is as immoral as anyone else killing innocents. But al-Shabaab has a perfectly sound justification for going to war against the TFG... it's a baby government!

Unfortunately, objective material on the Islamic Courts Union seems to be in short supply. I've looked around the net and the few sources that have any interesting details describe the ICU as an "Islamist organization" which I suspect is as accurate as that label is when applied to any organization in the post-9/11 world where anything with a turban or a Q'ran is target practice for the Pentagon.

Michael van Notten moved to Somalia and was involved with Somaliland which is a region in the northernmost tip of Somalia that, even today, is largely peaceful and unmarred by the king-of-the-hill struggles going in in Mogadishu and the surrounding region. You can read his discussion of Somali law after the collapse of the Barre regime here. He has written a book which is very next on my to-read list. My understanding is that the Somali customary law system is still largely intact in the Somaliland region.

In my view, the root debate is about how law is to be administered - should law be administered by a single organization (government), empowered to settle all disputes and issue dictates (statutes)? Or, should law be administered by anyone who opens up shop to provide law services (open competition)? We in the West are so used to thinking of law as statutes - commands issued from a "higher power" - that it is difficult for us to even conceive of living in an orderly society where there is no single monopolist of law.

Why should anyone want to live in a society which is not controlled by a central monopolist of law? For the simple reason that, as Hans Hoppe notes in many places in his writings, the State is the monopolist of law even - or especially - in disputes involving itself. This is an obvious conflict of interests. You might be able to argue with the government over how much you owe in taxes, but no State court will ever seriously entertain a legal challenge to the government's right to collect taxes at all. The IRS has a pdf available that catalogs and addresses all such "frivolous tax arguments" that have been heard and dismissed by the State's courts. Of course the Courts will not bite the hand that feeds them, so they never rule against the State, even though the State's final argument for why it has the power to collect taxes ("because we said so!") is transparently self-serving. The State is also able to insist that all disputes be liable to be brought to its courts for final review, which prevents the emergence of pockets of resistance to the law monopoly, that is, the emergence of competitive law systems within the purview of the State's authority.

So, there's the long-form version of the current evolution of my views on Somalia

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

State invasion of everyday life... a different interpretation

In this awesome mises.org daily (excerpted from Journal of Libertarian Studies), Hans Hoppe makes the case that the state's predation has increased inexorably under democracy vis-a-vis the levels of State predation which prevailed under monarchy. I think Hoppe's case is historically and logically sound.

However, there is another interpretation of the increasing invasion of the State into everyday life which I think deserves some consideration. If we go back to the origins of the State, it began with simple robbery ... plunder and tribute collected from tribes by war raiders. These war raiders, through one means or another, eventually transmuted into "steady-state" plunderers, extracting regular payments from a subject population rather than running one-off raids. In the beginning, the State existed without apology. Might did make right. There was no other reason to obey the State than that they could put a spear through you.

As time went on, however, alliances between the State formed with priests, merchants and judges. This alliance was originally very small, so that only a very tiny number of people enjoyed the privileges of belonging to the predatory class. Since the defining features of the modern State are its territorial monopolies of law and force (and coercive revenuing), we can start with the emergence of these features as the birth of the fully-developed State in human history.

Note, however, than since the State is naught but organized crime (aggression), its only distinction with other criminal organizations is its success in establishing a territorial monopoly on the means of legitimizing its aggressions. Because people were poorer and less well educated in the past, less sophisticated justifications for State aggression were needed. So, the Pharaoh wore a funny hat and employed the priest class to build astrological temples and that legitimized his coercion. However, over time, the State has had to employ ever more expensive and rigorous justifications for its parasitism. The ideal situation, from the point of view of the State, is to employ no one and to waste none of its revenues justifying its coercions, while collecting all the revenues solely for consumption on its own pleasures.

Looking at social welfare measures, such as the New Deal, it is clear that, while power elite analysis clearly demonstrates the ways in which these measures served the interests of those most urgently pressing for them, it also shows that the State has had to distribute its largesse to a wider and wider subgroup of the public. Initially, the proto-State raiders employed no one and spent none of their spoils justifying their raids. They simply consumed the proceeds of their raids on their own pleasures. As the State emerged, the plunderers began to employ judges, priests and merchants to put up a facade of legitimacy, to justify the plundering. As time has gone on, the costs of State apologetics have grown inexorably, to the present system that consumes 50% of GDP, most of which is spent on ends which are ancillary to the State's raison d'etre: plunderous aggression.

Hoppe points out the invasion of the Federal government into everyday life.

"... the 1994 edition of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the annual compendium of all US Federal Government regulations currently in effect, consists of a total of 201 books, occupying about 26 feet of library shelf space. The Code's index alone is 754 pages. The Code contains regulations concerning the production and distribution of almost everything imaginable: from celery, mushrooms, watermelons, watchbands, the labeling of incandescent light bulbs, hosiery, iron and steel manufacturing, and onion rings made out of diced onions, revealing the almost-totalitarian power of a democratic government."

This brings me to my alternative interpretation, namely, that the growth in the numbers of the parasitic class, and the dilution of the revenues commanded by the parasitic class, can be seen as a loss of power by the State, analogous to the loss of power by monarchs with the rise of democracy in the late-19th and early-20th century. Suffrage was extended to ever-wider groups because the counter-arguments to extending suffrage are too de-legitimizing. The State has had to share its parasitic revenues with an ever-growing subgroup of the public. It might seem that communism is an extremum of this process but I do not think that it is... communism is a concentration, not a dilution of state power and state revenues. While everyone is technically on the payroll of the State, the reality is that the State is consuming the vast majority of production and the people are being paid slave's wages by the State while the capital stock of the economy is burnt up and the communized economy eventually grinds to a halt on the precipice of tribal economics. I do not think this is analogous to the ever-expanding network of bribes and payoffs that constitute the parasitic class of the modern society. Now, the State has to pave the roads, run the phones and innumerable other ancillary tasks that it never had to bother with before, in order to continue legitimizing its core purpose of enabling the parasitic class to live at the expense of others.

This dilution of power not only applies to revenues but also to regulations. One interpretation of regulations is that they reflect an "omnipotence" on the part of the government... but anyone who has driven over the speed limit or smoked a joint knows that the government's regulations are not an expression of its actual omnipotence but its pretensions thereof. But why does the government pass so many regulations that it does not really intend to enforce? One reason is so that it has plenty of infractions to slap onto the innocent citizen with the temerity to stand up to the powers that be. But I think we have to ask why these regulations? Why does the government regulate this but not that? The reason is that regulations are a reflection of the expectations of the statist public from "good government". Good government won't let our kids drink and smoke cigarettes and will do everything in its power to ensure this doesn't happen. Every "immoral" behavior which can be construed in any way to have some effect on another person, however remote and indirect, is to be regulated by good government... government of conscience. This is part and parcel of the legitimization of government, the use of coercion to implement the will of the moral majority. This placates the majority with the feeling that the government is on God's side, something that their Pastors and priests - usually inadvertently - reinforce with every sermon on the duty of the individual to do everything in his or her power to stop others from behaving immoral (due to the damage they are doing to their immortal soul). The government is only following the sound advice of our spiritual leaders by doing everything in its power to stop people from behaving immorally. Spending the night in jail might suck, but if it teaches you not to drink the devil's liquor, why, you've been saved a great deal more suffering in the fires of Hell.

So, the increase in the size of the public sector and the increase in the number of regulations are symptomatic, I believe, of the weakness of the State's case for its own powers. While it is true that State expenditures have never been higher and State regulations have never been greater, this cannot in itself be interpreted as the result of a real increase in the State's power. The State ultimately derives its power from the legitimacy it commands in the public's eye. The more money the State has to spend on the pursuit of this ancillary goal, the less money it has for its own consumption. The more regulations the State has to implement to legitimize itself are a reflection of the greater demands of the public for the State to meet the criterion of legitimacy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Intellectual property is the essence of the State's self-delegated authority

There are a variety of manifestations of intellectual property - trademarks, copyrights, patents. Many things can be copyrighted and patented ... even business methods can be copyrighted! Famously, Amazon patented its so-called "1-click" purchase option, threatening other online sellers who dared to imitate its brilliant invention with lawsuits!

Leaving aside conceptual definitions of IP, what are its ultimate effects? The ultimate effects of IP are to prohibit certain sorts of actions by individuals which are construed to be violations of the "intellectual property" rights of others.

Now, the essence of property - in a Hoppean/Rothbardian conception - is to assign rights to exclusive use of a physical resource to a specific individual. If John owns a car, that means John has the exclusive right to operate and control the car and to determine who else is allowed to operate and control the car. When the State arrogates to itself the authority to license John's operation of his own property, the State is actually aggressing against John by infringing on the exclusivity of John's rights to operate and control his car.

But does this mean John is free to do anything he likes with his car, lest we commit the unpardonable sin of aggressing against John's all-hallowed "liberty"? No - if John uses his property in such a way that it interferes with the exclusive rights of another individual to control their own property, John is aggressing against that individual and they, thereby, have justification for the use of force against John to prevent him from using his property in that way (or taking him to court to seek retaliation against him). But the State, in licensing (or not) John's use of his own property is not suffering from any interference on John's part. If John refuses to be licensed, this does not harm any State property or anyone else's property, for that matter. The dispute between the State and John - regarding licensure of the use of his vehicle - is completely gratuitous. Gratuitous disputes can and will arise even in the absence of an aggressive State but those who initiate such gratuitous disputes at least have to bear the costs of their decision to harass a peaceful citizen. Gratuitous disputes which are subsidized by the State, on the other hand, pass the costs off onto the taxpayer - explaining why gratuitous disputes (e.g. victimless crimes) are far more numerous than disputes originating from property conflicts.

Intellectual property, in my opinion, is a form of gratuitous dispute. I say "in my opinion" because it's impossible to know in the absence of a market in law. The only way to know for sure is to have a free market in law. In a free market of law, I believe that the costs of pursuing such gratuitous disputes would swamp any possible benefits which could be garnered. It is only the subsidization of intellectual property claimants* by the State that makes such enterprises profitable. If a musical band recorded themselves in a studio to CD and released the CD in a stateless society, who would combat the "pirating" of the band's CD once they released it to the public? In each case, they would have to bring individual lawsuits against every individual who they deem to have "illegally" copied their IP. Such legal action would be prohibitively expensive (witness the RIAA's losing battle to legally intimidate people into not copying songs... and that with the aid of State subsidy!) One could take a Coasean approach and say that this, in itself, proves that IP should not be considered property but something deeper is at stake and that is that all property rights consist of rights to exclusive control of scarce physical resources for the purpose of avoiding conflicts. Expanding the definition of property to include intangibles - such as numbers, images, patterns, business methods, and so on, results in the multiplication of conflicts.

Gratuitous conflicts are the essence of State-delegated authority - look at the number of persons filling our prisons for "crimes" related to the possession, distribution and consumption of marijuana or other drugs. Whenever the State issues and enforces statutory or regulatory dictates - "Thou shalt ____" or "Thou shalt not ___" - it is creating gratuitous conflict. This is why I say that intellectual property is the essence of the State's self-delegated authority. Ordering people around like they are slaves is what the State does and intellectual property is just one example, among millions, of this.

In a competitive law society, we would expect that only those conflicts which it is profitable to prosecute would be prosecuted. A family seeking retaliation against a murdered family member will pay the costs (or their crime-insurance agency will) needed to convict the perpetrator, making such prosecution profitable. Victims of theft or assault will be able to profitably sell claims to repossession and retribution against their aggressor to for-profit bounty/repo businesses. But the reason that these things can be profitably done is exactly because they concern the allocation of scarce resources. Just like nobody can profitably sell air, so no one could profitably prosecute violations of perceived IP.

Finally, it is conceivable that societies of individuals who value ultra-high-quality media - and are willing to pay for the privilege to consume it - could develop. For example, perhaps you could have an enclave of blockbuster movie addicts who live in the Hollywood area and, as part of the contractual agreement to owning property in that region, they agree to abide by what is essentially IP law. Tourists might travel to the territory - a "Las Vegas for blockbuster buffs" - to get a taste of the rich media experiences which can only exist in a territory with ironclad IP rights. This would not be unlike other enclave communities that would likely develop around cult religions, anachronistic religions or tribal economics, such as the FLDS, Amish or anarcho-communes. There is nothing inherently anti-liberal about this, so long as these enclaves do not become aggressive and attempt to export the costs of their irrational social structures onto individuals living outside their territory. But it is highly unlikely, in my opinion, that international private law would ever recognize and enforce such bizarre legal rules.

*For example, the FBI warning regarding piracy at the opening of every Hollywood movie - who pays for the vigorous investigation and prosecution of piracy by the FBI? Not Hollywood... we do!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Get a degree in Homeland Security!

What the hell??

Government = Mafia

Case closed.

LA declares war on Mary Jane

Well, it looks like the Prohibitionists aren't giving up on California without a fight. LA city council voted 9-3 to impose heavy new regulations on medical marijuana distribution centers, including capping the total number of distribution centers in the city to 70 (there are currently estimated to be 800 to 1000 in the city). This is disappointing, as California has thumbed its nose at Washington more than any single state with its de facto nullification of Federal drug laws on marijuana. We'll just have to sit back and see how this one turns out. It will be a good barometer of the strength or weakness of US drug policy. If the Feds can be defied in California, they can be defied almost anywhere... and if that starts happening, our international drug policy will begin crumbling around the world. The repercussions would be widely felt.

Spending cap

This spending cap is a joke. It only applies to a tiny fraction of the Federal budget... $350B out of, what, close to $4T? Exempt are DHS, DoD and foreign aid. How transparent can you get? US gov won't stop sending more welfare to international bankers (through foreign aid) and won't stop spending even more on its already ridiculously outsized war budget. The charade is getting to be downright unbearable. I would prefer it, for sanity's sake, if these assholes would just own up... "yes, we're bilking you for close to 50% of everything you earn because we can... so get used to it." At least I could have the satisfaction of bitching about it and having everyone in the room nod their heads in agreement. How do they pull this off?? I'm in the wrong line of work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Law Is

Law

What is law? Frederic Bastiat, in his treatise The Law, defines law as the collective use of force. As much as I love Bastiat’s treatise, I think his definition is not sufficiently analytical. It is certainly the case that the law plays a role in the collective use of force but the law is something more basic than this. We can begin by looking at law as it is today. The website for the Oregon courts has an excellent summary[1] of modern law and courts. I will quote it at length:

Throughout history, people have had disputes and have needed some means to settle their disputes. As civil societies develop, they need an orderly system of conflict resolution. One system that developed in "western" cultures is the "law court" or court of law. In England, those early law courts developed a "body of law" called the common law, which defined both the rights of the people and the government and the duties people owe each other and their government. There was no legislature yet to adopt statutes.

English settlers brought this common law with them to the American Colonies, where it developed into the American common law. Over time, state and federal constitutions and statutes have superseded much American common law. Courts continue to look to the common law for guidance if no statute defines the rights and duties in a particular case.

As in other states, courts in Oregon are both rooted in this common law tradition and governed by a state constitution and statutes that supersede the common law. Oregon's statutes are organized by subject matter in a set of books called Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS).

As in other states, Oregon law has two broad branches: civil law and criminal law, each with origins in the common law and each now governed primarily by statute.

Civil law includes statutes and "case law" that define or interpret individuals' and organizations' private rights in their relationships and disputes that involve property, contracts, personal injury, family relationships, tax, or government rules and regulations.

Because Oregon does not have laws that define every private right, courts rely on the "court-made" law called "common law" to resolve some disputes.

Criminal law is the body of laws that define a person's basic rights in and duties to preserve a peaceful and safe society. A person who violates the duties to preserve social peace and safety may be guilty of a crime "against the people" and so face jail, prison, or some other punishment. In addition, if the lawbreaker's act injured another (the "victim"), the victim may have a right to a private, civil law claim for damages.

Modern criminal law is almost all statutory. Criminal cases require courts to decide whether and how certain criminal laws apply and whether those laws as applied violate the state or federal constitution.

The legislature can change the common law by enacting a statute, so long as the governor does not veto the new law. The courts must follow that law so long as it does not conflict with the state or federal constitution. However, if no statute "governs" the issue in a particular case, the court may look to the common law rules for guidance.

When an appellate court must interpret statutory or common law in order to decide a case, the court's decision becomes "precedent" for deciding future cases with similar issues.

A precedent that interprets a statute makes that interpretation part of the statute.

A precedent that applies the common law to a new situation becomes part of the common law.

Although courts usually "follow precedent," courts may modify the earlier common law rules in some circumstances.

The legislature enacts other statutes that affect courts as well. The legislature determines the budget for the state courts and defines the amounts they charge for filing fees and other court fees. The legislature also defines how state courts collect fines and distribute the money collected.

This summary contains all the essential elements of the modern law. We have a common law tradition which forms the foundation on which the law rests. Statutes override the common law to force the courts to operate in accord with the State’s interests. Interpretation of the common law or statutory law forms new legal precedent. New precedents are folded into the common law and statutory law to extend the body of law.

Hans Hoppe, in a recent lecture[2], defines the State in the following manner:

Let me begin with the definition of a state. What must an agent be able to do to qualify as a state? This agent must be able to insist that all conflicts among the inhabitants of a given territory be brought to him for ultimate decision-making or be subject to his final review. In particular, this agent must be able to insist that all conflicts involving himself be adjudicated by him or his agent. And, implied in the power to exclude all others from acting as ultimate judge, as the second defining characteristic of a state, is the agent's power to tax: to unilaterally determine the price that justice seekers must pay for his services.

Based on this definition of a state, it is easy to understand why a desire to control a state might exist. For whoever is a monopolist of final arbitration within a given territory can make laws. And he who can legislate can also tax. Surely, this is an enviable position.

Hoppe goes on to describe the alliance between intellectuals, as social opinion-molders, and the State. The State, Hoppe says, subsidizes the production of intellectual goods in exchange for intellectual loyalty to the State and production of philosophical justifications and rationalizations for the State’s existence. The same line of reasoning can be applied to the State’s monopolization of legal services. Dispute-resolution is surely older than the organized State. At some point in human history, the State took an interest in monopolizing the courts. The fundamental exchange is the same as that described by Hoppe regarding the monopolization of intellectuals. The State grants its preferred jurists a monopoly on the production of dispute-resolution services in exchange for the courts’ loyalty in disputes involving the State itself. The state guards its monopoly on dispute-resolution as jealously as it guards its monopoly on the use of force or its monopoly on the coercive collection of revenues.

Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe and other notable anarchist philosophers approach the problem of law from the point of view of natural rights. They begin with a Lockean approach to infer inalienable, unassailable rights from the human need to survive. David Friedman, an “anarcho-capitalist”, takes a different, value-free approach to law. I do not think either approach is a satisfactory intellectual foundation for law.

I will put forward a view of law which is a hybrid of the positive law view of Friedman and the normative law views of Hoppe, Rothbard and others. In a rebuttal to Hans Hoppe’s argumentation ethics[3], David Friedman says the following:

… consider an ethic according to which there are no rights at all; everyone is morally free to coerce everyone else whenever he can get away with it, but many people succeed in defending themselves well enough so that they control much of their own [property]. According to their ethic they have no right to self ownership, nor to anything else, but they have physical control over themselves... One might plausibly claim that this comes close to describing the world we now live in. [Emphasis added]

I think that Friedman’s assessment of the state of affairs, while value-free, is accurate. The value-free nature of Friedman’s assessment is not its defining virtue. Rather, it is its congruency with the state of affairs we observe in the real world which makes this assessment valuable.

This leads us back to the question of what the law is. In a world where amoral coercion is consistent with physical reality, what is law, really? Let’s start from the definition used by the Oregon courts, “Throughout history, people have had disputes and have needed some means to settle their disputes. As civil societies develop, they need an orderly system of conflict resolution.” Law, that is, the court system, is an orderly system for the resolution of conflicts.

What are conflicts and how do they arise? Hans Hoppe says[4],

Alone on his island, Robinson Crusoe can do whatever he pleases. For him, the question concerning rules of orderly human conduct — social cooperation — simply does not arise. This question can only arise once a second person, Friday, arrives on the island. Yet even then, the question remains largely irrelevant so long as no scarcity exists.

Suppose the island is the Garden of Eden; all external goods are available in superabundance. They are "free goods," just as the air that we breathe is normally a "free" good. Whatever Crusoe does with these goods, his actions have no repercussions — neither with respect to his own future supply of such goods nor regarding the present or future supply of the same goods for Friday (and vice versa). Hence, it is impossible for there ever to be a conflict between Crusoe and Friday concerning the use of such goods. A conflict is only possible if goods are scarce. Only then will the need arise to formulate rules that make orderly, conflict-free social cooperation possible.

Hoppe’s argument suggests that there are two conditions for the existence of interpersonal conflict: more than one person and scarcity. There seems to be many forms of conflict which do not originate from scarcity, such as debates over metaphysics or religion, which may even go to fists. However, law is concerned only with real (physical) conflicts. Until a verbal argument goes to fists, it is not a real conflict. Law, in a private law society, is not concerned with resolving moral or metaphysical disputes[5].

As an example of a real dispute, consider the case of a traffic accident. When one person strikes another person’s vehicle with his own vehicle, there arises a dispute. This dispute has arisen because property damage has occurred. The question that is to be settled in the dispute is who was at fault, and this question is typically answered in the case of moving traffic accidents by determining who had the right-of-way, that is, who was in the right. Who had the right to proceed unhindered? Determining who was in the right establishes whether the property damage will be borne by the owner of the damaged property or will be transferred in some proportion to the offending party.

Real conflicts arise from scarcity, that is, property conflicts. So where do human rights fit into this picture? Murray Rothbard says[6] of human rights,

… there are two senses in which property rights are identical with human rights: one, that property can only accrue to humans, so that their rights to property are rights that belong to human beings; and two, that the person's right to his own body, his personal liberty, is a property right in his own person as well as a "human right."

In Rothbard’s view, only humans have rights and all rights are property rights. All real conflict is conflict over property because the body itself may be thought of as property.

This leads to the question, what is property? We can begin with the concept of property in the human person then move on to personal property and the emergence of property in land as a guide to understanding the origins of the human conception of property. This is the Lockean approach used by Hoppe, Rothbard and others. We can look to dictionary or legal definitions of property but none of these definitions touch the heart of the issue as it regards a theory of the private production of law: what evolutionary purpose does property serve? Why did property arise in the first place?

Property serves the purpose of conflict-avoidance by acting as a generally recognized heuristic allocating physical objects to the exclusive control of one or another individual.

If you pick up my camera from a seat at the airport, I will probably only need to say, “excuse me, that’s mine, can I have it back?” to settle the matter of whether you may use it. There are many conflict-avoidance schemes in human affairs, from religious rituals to social customs. When someone says, “Pardon me” after bumping into you in a hallway, the odds of a physical conflict arising as a result of the mishap are lower than they otherwise would be. From the standpoint of biology, it should be easy to see how persons who engage in conflict-avoidance strategies have a reproductive advantage over those who do not.

Property serves to avoid conflicts by allocating scarce physical objects to the exclusive use of a single decision-maker. But what is property? I will provide a working definition of property but I will not attempt to justify my definition here. Stephan Kinsella, in an article discussing the difference between intellectual property and radio waves, says the following:

… every scarce resource–things that can be contested; rivalrous things; resources that have exclusive use, so that use by me excludes use by you, and so on–is assigned an owner; that owner is the person who first appropriated or used the property in an embordering way–that is as an owner. It’s the first person to erect publicly visible boundaries that others can respect and see; he has a better claim to the resource than any latecomer.

Any property must be physical because non-physical objects are not scarce (real conflicts cannot arise). Property is not necessarily tangible. In other words, you can own physical matter (dirt, water, rocks, paper, etc.) or energy (for example, electrical energy) but you cannot own ideas or patterns, such as a number or an image. Property is the exclusive claim to the use and disposal of a particular, scarce, physical object, defined in space and time. You cannot own a general class of physical objects, such as, “I own all ceramic dinner plates.” You may happen to own all members of a class of physical objects, such as, “I own all of Rembrandt’s self-portraits”, but you cannot own them as a class qua class, that is, you cannot claim, “Because that is a self-portrait of Rembrandt, I own it.” Because classes are ideas and ideas are not scarce, so-called “intellectual property” is not property at all. Intellectual property is an invalid claim of ownership of a class of physical objects, for example, all objects bearing a certain mark or conforming to a certain pattern.

How do physical objects become property? It seems natural to someone who has been surrounded by property all his life to assume that almost everything is and ought to be owned by somebody. Who owns the moon? Who owns Mars? There is a slice of the Antarctic continent, called Marie Byrd Land, which is not claimed by any sovereign nation. Who owns it? These questions open up the larger question of how any physical thing came to be owned in the first place. I can give no good reason why I have rights to exclusive use of some portion of the Moon or a portion of Marie Byrd Land. So, no portion of the moon or Marie Byrd Land is my property.

Property becomes owned through original appropriation. Original appropriation is the rule of first use: the first to use an otherwise unowned resource thereby becomes its rightful owner. If I am wandering through unowned wilderness (say, a thousand years ago when much of the Earth’s surface was unowned wilderness) and I pluck an apple from a wild apple tree, the apple becomes mine because I am using it and I am the first to put it to use. It is clear that use of unowned resources constitutes an improvement of social welfare since no one is hurt by my consuming the apple yet I am helped thereby. Since physical objects exist in a context of space and time adjacent to other physical objects, they are entangled, that is, how I use this physical object may affect some other physical object to which I do not have a property claim. Defining what constitutes valid or justifiable uses of physical resources is part of the problem that law solves.

Once owned, property can be exchanged with other persons. When people exchange property voluntarily, we know that human welfare is being improved by virtue of the exchange taking place. Voluntary exchange and original appropriation result in conflict-free improvements in the state of affairs. But property or any other conflict-avoidance strategy is imperfect because it is impossible to foresee the future or divine all possible consequences of following a certain conflict-avoidance strategy. No rule can, in all cases, prevent conflicts from ever arising. Hence, conflicts are inevitable.

Property conflicts arise as a result of unilateral changes of property boundaries. The voluntary redrawing of boundary lines obviously results in an improvement of the human condition. But since I can always be materially better off by unilaterally redrawing the boundaries of property to give myself more at the expense of others, I am motivated to do so. Real conflict results when individuals act according to the incentive to unilaterally redraw property lines. The definition of real conflict is unilateral redrawing of property boundaries.

Conflicts also arise as a result of threats, even threats which are not malicious. Presenting risks to the lives and property of others is a threat of unilateral property line redrawing. The pugnacious bar brawler who starts waving his fist in someone’s face is also threatening unilateral redrawing of a property line. Threats are as actionable as completed acts of unilateral property line redrawing. Someone who drives recklessly increases risk of property damage to those around him, even if he did not in this instance lose control and cause actual property damage.

There are two possible ways to resolve real conflicts: martial contest or non-violent resolution of the dispute. In societies where duels are permitted, parties to a dispute may choose which route they would like to pursue to resolve the conflict. However, since martial contests are terribly risky and costly, there is a large incentive to avoid them. We can see in the animal kingdom the costliness of martial contests. When they occur within the same species they are almost always non-lethal. Alpha male behavior can likely be thought of as a conflict-avoidance scheme where most serious conflicts only occur with the alpha male instead of being all-against-all. Only a single contest is required to settle the matter of who will have the benefits of being the alpha male for long stretches of time.

It is safe to assume that parties to a legal dispute are primarily motivated by adversarial self-interest. The US legal system makes this presumption very explicit. Given that the parties to the dispute are only in court to avoid physical conflict, in a private law society, this is not a very strong assumption. But this assumption leads to the breakdown of both the natural law (Rothbardian) and positive law (Friedmanian) approach to anarchic or private law. Friedman presents the case that anarchic law leads to the best or most efficient outcome for society. That is, Friedman is arguing from the point of view of social justice or social welfare. But this approach assumes that the individual cares about social welfare. That is, by presenting his arguments for anarchist law in the frame of how it improves social welfare, Friedman is assuming that the reader – and by implication anyone who is trying to ascertain what the law is and ought to be – cares about social justice or social welfare. This may accurately describe the typical, liberal academic but those most affected by the question of what the law is – real participants in real legal disputes – are not likely to share the same proclivity for social justice wherever it conflicts with their own interests. Since law, in a private law society, is the production of voluntary, non-violent resolutions to real disputes, only a definition of law which is acceptable to adversarial, self-interested individuals will suffice.

Rothbard argues from the point of view of natural law, starting first from the physical fact of an inalienable will in the living body and reasoning in the Lockean fashion from this fact to property rights in the body and thence to the preconditions for the body’s continued existence: standing room, air to breath and liberty to appropriate unowned natural resources or to utilize the body to produce and exchange for vital necessities. Leaving aside the potential technical problems within the natural rights arguments, there is a greater deficiency vis-à-vis applying natural rights to law. In a legal dispute involving a clear aggressor and a clear victim, the aggressor has already exhibited a disregard for morality and human rights. The purse thief is hardly concerned with the fact that his actions are immoral or violate the rights of his victim. Hence, it is of no use to expound upon his violations of natural rights. As with Friedman’s approach, Rothbard’s approach fails because it is not applicable to real disputes. That is, Rothbard’s definition of law is not useful to real individuals involved in real conflicts.

So what is the law? Law is the alternative to violent conflict when conflict-avoidance strategies (such as property lines) have failed to avoid conflict. In terms of rights in property, law is the production of new, stipulated property-lines which resolve real conflicts without further violence.

This definition immediately raises the question of how disputes can be resolved between asymmetrically powerful parties. In modern law systems, the aggressor (accused) has an incentive to resolve the conflict with his victim by means of law because the state will immediately retaliate against the accused for failure to comply with a court trial. In other words, the state offers the options of non-violent dispute resolution or immediate, overwhelming retaliatory violence (appear in court or be arrested or possibly even killed for failure to comply). In a stateless society, it appears that an aggressor would have no incentive to seek non-violent resolution of a dispute with his victim. After all, an aggressor usually will not attack unless he reasonably believes he can get away with the attack in the first place. That is, he has already calculated that he can win a martial contest with the victim.

Therefore, the victim must be able to present a sufficient threat to the accused in order to motivate the aggressor to come to court. That is, both parties must have an incentive to seek a peaceful settlement of the matter. Law and security, then, are inseparable. You cannot have real rights without the capacity to present a real threat to aggressors who refuse peaceful settlement of disputes. In other words, if you steal my television, and I send you a notice saying, “You must appear in court regarding the matter of the theft of my television,” I must also be able to take forcible action in the event you refuse to settle the matter through non-violent means. Otherwise, you will simply ignore my summons.

So far, I have not mentioned the non-aggression principle. In the characterization of rights and law that I have presented so far, what is called the "non-aggression principle" follows from the simple fact that prior success in redrawing the boundaries of property does not constitute a valid verbal argument for the property lines remaining unchanged. If I steal your purse and you bring me to court, simply noting that I won the physical contest for your purse does not constitute a valid verbal argument for the purse remaining in my possession. It is, in fact, a circular argument. The point in contention is whether the outcome of that physical contest should remain unchanged. If I refuse to defend my actions or if I am unable to defend my actions in court (using reason, ethics and accepted principles of law), the ultimate recourse is a new martial contest. In other words, rejecting the non-aggression principle is no different than saying “I don’t care to settle this through non-violent means, let’s just settle this matter through martial contest.” Note that this argument is inspired by Hoppe’s argumentation ethics which is essentially a presuppositional approach to the non-aggression principle. However, I find Hoppe’s attempt to elevate the NAP to an axiom to be deficient because it is not useful to real parties to a real legal dispute, as noted above.

Stephan Kinsella follows what he terms an “estoppel approach” to argue that a party to a non-violent dispute must accept violence against himself in proportion to that which he has already used against his victim because he is “estopped” by his past actions, that is, he would be committing what Hoppe calls a “performative contradiction” to argue otherwise. This argument is deeply unsatisfying, not least because it is easy to wriggle out of Hoppe’s performative contradiction by accepting that one has acted as a hypocrite. So, no one would ever commit a crime worse than hypocrisy, which does not seem to me to be a very serious crime, if it is a crime at all. However, Kinsella’s approach falls on the same criterion that Rothbard’s, Friedman’s and Hoppe’s approaches fall – it is not useful to parties in a real legal dispute. One side need only reject the doctrine of estoppel[7], which is not a very large leap, since the doctrine is not even in use in modern law, as Kinsella himself admits.

This brings us to the issue of justifiable violence. We know that any violence which is accepted through a stipulated resolution reached through non-violent means (court) improves social welfare because the receiver of the violence preferred it to martial contest. The context in which the violence occurs – defense, pre-emptive attack or retaliation – is irrelevant to this point. All that matters is that the parties stipulate that one or both parties will be subjected to some level of violence as an alternative to martial contest. Even though the terms under which the dispute is resolved involve the use or justification of violence, we know that it is an improvement to social welfare because both parties preferred the stipulated agreement to martial contest.

Specifically, there are three categories of violence which I believe can be justified. Violence which may be justifiable could include defense from present attacks or threatened future attacks against person and property and retribution for past attacks. In other words, any violence which a party would accept as a non-violent resolution to a real dispute is justifiable violence. That is, all violence which is more acceptable than direct martial contest is valid violence.

First, there is defensive violence. Despite the significant focus by libertarians on violence used in self-defense, there is nothing inherent in self-defense that magically elevates it above all other forms of justifiable violence. A wider principle of non-violence would be the following: only interpersonal violence which corresponds to a valid property argument is justifiable. A valid property argument is one which has become a part of the canon of customary law. This means that individuals can expect that courts will rule that violence used in a manner consistent with customary law was justified and the only alternative to accepting justified violence will be martial contest. In other words, if you grab a woman’s purse and she strikes you and you sue her, customary law will likely rule that her use of violence to defend her property was justifiable and your use of violence to attempt to snatch her purse was not.

Defensive violence is used to stop a present attack. It is easy to see that defensive violence follows the principle “first, do no harm” since defensive violence causally reduces the use of violence. The person who uses violence to defend his person or property has demonstrably reduced the amount of violence in the world by halting or neutralizing the violence used by the aggressor. Defensive violence “nips in the bud” conflicts which arise from failure of property boundaries to avoid conflicts.

The second category of justifiable violence is pre-emptive attack. Pre-emptive attack is used in the neutralization of threatened future attacks. Note that a future attack need not be malicious to warrant pre-emptive attack. Actions which pose risks to others which they have not agreed to bear may justify pre-emptive attack. For example, setting up an M2 on a tripod in your front yard trained into my living room constitutes a threat (possibly not malicious) to my person and property which may justify the direct use of violence (for example, disabling or destroying the weapon).

The third category of justifiable violence is retaliation. However bad the retaliatory violence stipulated in the agreement may be (let’s say, a public whipping of 40 lashes), the punished party preferred that resolution to martial contest. Hence, we arrive at a conclusion which has evaded libertarian treatments of punishment: retributive violence can constitute an improvement in social welfare as evidenced by revealed preference. One corollary of this is that it is not likely that the death penalty would be justifiable retaliation since no one would ever accept a stipulated agreement in which they certainly die… better to take your chances with a martial contest in which you may only possibly die. The exception to this may be in clan societies where a family sacrifices one of its own for the sake of keeping the peace between the rival clan.

An open question is whether retaliation can be justified on the basis of past threats. Is it justifiable to fine someone for having endangered your person or property? If you set up the M2 in your front yard and then later take it down without incident, if I sue you, can I collect damages for the past threat, even though no real conflict (unilateral redrawing of property boundaries) occurred? Traffic tickets for speeding or DUI are an example of this sort of thing. Or, can threats only be neutralized “on the spot”, that is, with direct action? Perhaps it would turn out that I could justify taking a sledge hammer to the ammo feed on your M2 while it is pointed at my living room but I could not justify asking you to pay damages after the weapon has been removed.

What about stop signs private property? Can I be fined for driving past a stop sign on private property? The act of driving through the stop sign does not, in itself, constitute a violation of any of the property rights of the owner of the land on which the stop sign is situated since I am operating my property (the vehicle) as I see fit. However, a driver who was almost hit by virtue of my failure to observe the stop sign may have a case against me for endangering his life, at least, if retaliatory violence can be justified for past threats.

Since the court, in a private law society, is only selling its services as a mutually agreed-upon decision-maker, the rules which emerge governing what is justifiable violence will be those decisions which have in the past succeeded in settling disputes. That is, case law emerges out of the chaos of innumerable disputes and attempted resolutions of those disputes. Both the natural law and positive law approaches agree that a body of precedents will emerge from non-violent resolution of real conflicts in a private law society and that it is this body of decentralized dispute-resolution which becomes law per se. Rights and general laws emerge from the pattern of successful resolution of past real conflicts by non-violent means, just as common law developed in England and the US prior to the creation of legislatures.

Appendix on Voluntary Slavery

Rothbard uses the principle that promise does not constitute contract to argue that voluntary slavery is impossible, since the “voluntary” slave may at any future point renege on his promise to be a slave. Block counters that voluntary slavery ought to be valid since it is valuable, that is, there are cases where it would be worthwhile for someone to choose to enslave themselves to another person. In line with my analysis of law, the key issue is the slave’s capacity to present a threat to his master in order to bring his master to court. In the case of a victim of crime, the victim may hire a security agency to backstop the summons to court… failure to go to court can result in direct retaliation by the victim’s security agency. In the case of a slave, if a dispute arises, the slave may be unable to hire a security agency to backstop his case.

If the slave can hire a security agency to backstop his case, then the master has a reason to go to court. In this case, the slave has rights, because a property dispute (whether the slave must, indeed, remain a slave) is being argued verbally, that is, a non-violent resolution is being sought. It is doubtful that the slave will accept Block’s social welfare argument (society benefits if voluntary slave contracts are enforceable), that is, the slave will always prefer martial contest to accepting the principle of voluntary slavery, even if he has signed away his rights in a voluntary slavery contract.

It seems to me that voluntary slavery really can go either way in a private law society and it depends on the court and security services. Perhaps all respectable courts would reject the principle of voluntary slavery. In that case, it would be impossible to find a court that would uphold a voluntary slave contract and any slave that could obtain security services might be able to emancipate himself and even bring his would-be owner to court for kidnapping or false imprisonment. On the other hand, it could emerge that courts would find that voluntary slavery was sufficiently beneficial to society that voluntary slave contracts must be upheld. In this view, the slave would still retain rights (because he could take his master to court), but the rights held would only be the “right to non-violent dispute resolution”, since the courts would uphold the general abrogation of the slave’s human rights within the slave contract. In any case, the slave who can retain protection will always have the right to a trial. Consider a falsely enslaved individual – the slaveholder claims the individual is legitimately his property but the enslaved individual contests this. Surely, the enslaved individual has as much right to have the slaveholder’s claims reviewed by a court of law as anyone else. The key issue is his ability to present a sufficient threat (hire a defense agency willing to backstop his case) to the slaveholder to motivate him to go to court.

Appendix on False Accusations

False accusations are themselves a crime… [work in progress]

[1] http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/aboutus/courtsintro/index.page?

2 http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe18.html

3 http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/On_Hoppe.html

4 http://mises.org/story/2265

5 I am taking this as a point of faith, Hoppe justifies this position in his writings [looking for cite…]

6 http://mises.org/story/2569

7 It could be argued that the doctrine of estoppel would become part of the body of law in a private law society but my observation is not with respect to the content of law (specific legal precedents or arguments), rather, it is an existential observation… if a party refuses to accept an arbitrator who applies estoppel, there can be no non-violent resolution of the dispute on the basis of an argument based on the principle of estoppel.

Errata: Missing cite for Kinsella's definition of property: http://www.stephankinsella.com/2009/08/09/why-airwaves-are-arguably-property/

Missing cite for Kinsella's application of estoppel: http://mises.org/journals/jls/12_1/12_1_3.pdf



[5] I am taking this as a point of faith, Hoppe justifies this position in his writings [looking for cite…]

[7] It could be argued that the doctrine of estoppel would become part of the body of law in a private law society but my observation is not with respect to the content of law (specific legal precedents or arguments), rather, it is an existential observation… if a party refuses to accept an arbitrator who applies estoppel, there can be no non-violent resolution of the dispute on the basis of an argument based on the principle of estoppel.