The USA—Best Not to Go There Unless You Have an Urgent Reason to Do So

Written by Robert Higgs.

However, if you are not in such desperate straits, I would strongly suggest that you avoid attempting to enter the USA, however legally you might try to do so. Those entering the country through government checkpoints, either at the border or at an airport, run a high risk of being treated with great contempt by the border thugs and are at considerable risk of worse, including not only being detained and interrogated at great length (and completely without a plausible basis) and being compelled to surrender computer, phone, and social media passwords along with the devices, but also being denied permission to enter and forced to return to their place of departure.

The USA is simply not a welcoming place. It is a police state, and a hostile one at that. It makes virtually no attempt to distinguish potentially threatening people from ordinary people who, to anyone with a trace of brain, obviously pose no threat to national security or the personal well-being of current U.S. residents. So, be smart, amigos: don’t go there unless your have a very important reason to do so.

I am now kicking myself for having agreed to attend a conference in Maui in April. I should have listened to my wiser angel. I doubt very much, however, that afterward I shall ever make the same mistake.

Originally published at

Open This Content

Question Authority

Written by Marco den Ouden.

We are taught early in life to respect and obey authority. The authority of Mom and Dad. The authority of our teachers. The authority of the pastor. The authority of the police and government officials. Even some of our childhood games drill authority into us. Simon says, “put your finger on your nose.” You do it. If Simon doesn’t say it and you do it, you’re out of the game. Obey Simon!

It may be apocryphal, but the origin of the game is said to have originated with the defeat of Henry III in 1264 by Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Lewes. After his defeat, Henry could give no commands save on Simon’s authority.

When we are children, this may make sense. Adults are older, more experienced, more aware of dangers that could hurt us, better informed on nutrition and so on. Their authority serves to keep us alive and well.

But some influential experts in child psychology have recommended that even children should be treated as autonomous beings with minds of their own. The child psychologist Haim Ginott, in his ground-breaking book Between Parent and Child, offered “specific advice derived from basic communication principles that will guide parents in living with children in mutual respect and dignity.”

While acknowledging that parents need to set limits, communicating such limits requires respect for the child’s feelings, a focus on behaviours rather than the child’s character, and a fostering of independent decision making.

As we mature, we become more independent, eventually making our way in the world. This involves rejecting authority to some extent. For some, this independence breeds an hostility to authority well captured in a slogan popularized in posters in the radical sixties – Question Authority.

Do a Google search for the phrase “Question Authority” and you’ll see the slogan remains popular today – with some amusing variants such as “Question authority but not your mother”; “Question authority before it questions you” and in a parody of the “Keep Calm” posters, “Think for yourself and question authority”

Questioning authority, in fact, is part of the American psyche. It is the basis of the American Republic which fought a war of independence questioning the authority of their British overlords.

Benjamin Franklin said, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

Theodore Roosevelt (after he left the presidency, of course) said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public”.

Albert Einstein said, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

It makes sense to respect some authority. We are not omniscient. We cannot know everything, nor can we be experts in every field. We, of necessity, respect the authority of doctors, dentists, and other medical specialists. After my pulmonary embolism, my doctor put me on a blood thinning drug. I am not about to question his expertise, though I did read up on the disease and the drug. This is not a failure to question authority so much as an acknowledgement that he knows more about the ailment and its treatment than I do. He went to med school. I did not.

This acquiescence to authority is important in many areas of life. Take something as mundane as the automobile. We take our cars to be fixed by knowledgeable and respected mechanics because we cannot fix them ourselves. Most of us have only a vague notion of how a car works.

We rely on experts because we live in a society with a highly developed division of labor, with many people specializing in many things. We rely on the expertise of experts every day.

Yet even in these specialized fields, some questioning of authority is appropriate. There are alternative medicines such as naturopathy. There are those who question the efficacy of vaccines.

Most importantly, it is important to maintain our moral compass in the face of authority.

But while there must be a balance between questioning authority and acknowledging expertise, and while questioning of authority is built into the fabric of American life, there is also an undercurrent of unquestioning obedience.

In a famous experiment at Yale University in the sixties, psychologist Stanley Milgram set out to test how far people would stray from morality at the behest of authority.

Milgram was influenced by the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. The architect of the Nazi’s final solution had been caught in Argentina by Mossad operatives and spirited away to Israel to stand trial. Political theorist Hannah Arendt covered the trial and wrote about it in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem.

“Arendt contended,” writes Milgram in his book Obedience to Authority, “that the prosecution’s effort to depict Eichmann as a sadistic monster was fundamentally wrong, that he came closer to being an uninspired bureaucrat who simply sat at his desk and did his job.” Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to characterize her observation.

Milgram goes on to note that the film, Dr. Strangelove, “brilliantly satirized the absorption of a bomber crew in the technical procedure of dropping nuclear weapons on a country.”

His experiment aimed to see if authority and the absorption of a test subject in an exacting routine could lead to the subject crossing moral boundaries.

The experiment had student volunteers participate in “a study of memory”. He paid volunteers $4 an hour, pretty good pay at the time. The actual experiment was conducted in a lab. On one side was a learner. He was strapped into a chair with an electrode  taped to his arm.

On the other side was a desk with an instrument panel consisting “of 30 lever switches set in a horizontal line. Each switch was clearly labeled with a voltage designation that ranged from 15 to 450 volts. The labels showed a 15-volt increment from one switch to the next.”

Groups of four switches were labeled as “Slight Shock, Moderate Shock, Strong Shock, Very Strong Shock, Intense Shock, Extreme Intensity Shock, Danger: Severe Shock” with the last two switches labeled simply XXX.

It all looked very official and the test subject was seated at the desk and told by the experimenter, authoritative looking in a gray lab coat, that the subject was to be the teacher in this experiment to test memory. The “teacher” was to read a series of word pairs, then he would read one word and the learner was to repeat what the correct matching word was. Sort of like the game Concentration.

If the learner got the answer wrong, the teacher was to administer a shock. The experimenter assured the teacher that “Although the shocks can be extremely painful, they cause no permanent tissue damage,”

At each wrong answer, the teacher was to increase the voltage by one step. As the shocks became increasingly larger, the learner’s reactions would change from a mild twitch to expressions of pain to screams of pain and even begging the teacher to stop. The learner was not actually being shocked, but a confederate of the experimenter, an actor who pretended to be in pain. But the subject teacher did not know this.

The cries of the learner confederate increased in stages. with little discomfort shown below 75 volts. But “painful groans were heard on administration of the 135-volt shock and at 150 volts the victim cried out, ‘Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in this experiment any more! I refuse to go on!’ At 180 volts the victim cried out, ‘I can’t stand the pain,’ and by 270 volts his response to the shock was definitely an agonized scream.”

If the teacher balked at any point, the experimenter prodded him to continue with lines like “please continue” or “the experiment requires that you continue” or “it is absolutely essential that you continue” or “you have no other choice, you must go on”.

At 300 volts the learner refused to go on and the teacher was advised to treat non-compliance as a wrong answer and shock the victim anyway.

The tests were conducted in variations to test whether the proximity of the victim had any bearing. In Experiment 1, the victim was not visible nor audible, but “at 300 volts the laboratory walls resound as he pounds in protest. At 315 volts, no further answers appear and the pounding ceases.”

The second variation had voice feedback. The victim could be heard but not seen. The third variation had the victim in the same room, visible as well as audible. In the fourth variation, the victim learner had to have his hand on a shock plate to feel the shocks. At 150 volts the victim refused to put his hand on the plate and the experimenter ordered the subject teacher to forcibly put the victim’s hand on the plate.

The results of this experiment boggle the imagination. Each experiment had 40 subjects. In experiment 1, no visibility, no sound except pounding at 300 volts – fully 26 people went all the way to the highest voltage – 450 volts. With experiment 2, no visibility but victim’s screams could be heard – 25 people went the limit. Experiment 3 – victim in same room visible and audible – 16 applied the maximum voltage. And in experiment 4, where the teacher had to physically force the victim to receive the shocks – twelve people – you read that right – twelve people – compelled the victim by physical force to receive the maximum shock.

Twelve people resisted the victim’s screams of pain and demands to be let free and forcibly held his hand on the shock plate. Twelve people obeyed an authority figure rather than their own conscience. Twelve Eichmanns in waiting. Milgram truly proved that Arendt was right. The most banal functionary can be a dictator in waiting. A person capable of carrying out monstrous acts at the behest of an authority figure. The table below shows the results of the experiment.

And lest my fellow smug Canadians believe that this is an American problem, that Milgram’s experiments happened in the United States, we in Canada are possibly even more prone to acquiesce to authority. In 1980, an American ex-patriate professor at Dalhousie University, Edgar Friedenberg, published Deference to Authority: The Case of Canada.

“Canada doesn’t want the American political system, doesn’t need it, and couldn’t make it work,” he says, “But life in Canada would be much freer, and political institutions more stable, if Canadians could get the message that is already grasped at some level by most Americans: that authority is, in every sense, inherently questionable.”

Ultimately, the questioning of authority is not only a good thing. It is a necessary thing. It is the backbone of freedom. Cherish the right to protest. Cherish the right to be different. Cherish the right to question authority.

Originally published at

Open This Content

Libertarianism is Self-Empowerment

Written by Marco den Ouden.

One of the things I have been trying to do with this blog is look at why libertarianism isn’t widely accepted by the masses and how it can effectively be sold. In one entry I used Isaiah Berlin’s discussion of the Hedgehog and the Fox to argue that libertarians were hedgehogs in their thinking whereas Joe Public thinks like a fox.

To reiterate, Berlin argues that “there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel – a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance – and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.”

The former he calls hedgehogs and the latter foxes. Hedgehogs see the world through an ideological lens. Hedgehogs try and make reality fit their ideas, or try and force the world into a narrow perspective. The fox is a pragmatist. He is flexible. He does what works.

In Karl Popper’s terminology, (taken from The Open Society and Its Enemies), hedgehogs believe in wholesale social engineering, whereas foxes are prone to piecemeal social engineering.

In another blog post I argued that libertarianism is all about growing up. Shedding the notions of childhood and learning to become independent and productive individuals. As I put it, “The statist mentality is that most people are too stupid to be autonomous individuals. They must be treated like children. If they don’t want to use their seat belts, then, by God, we’ll compel them to do so with a threat of punishment if they don’t comply. If they don’t want to eat healthy food, then, by God, we will ban super-size drinks in theaters or put a tax on junk food. The adult in a libertarian society, on the other hand, is treated as an adult, encouraged to make decisions and make his way in the world.”

The other day I came across a great quote from Eric Hoffer which made me question whether libertarians are going about the idea of selling liberty altogether wrongly. We try and sell freedom. We sell an abstract idea – the non-aggression principle. But is this something that is, in and of itself, saleable?  Libertarians are clearly hedgehogs – ideologues ruled by one central idea. In a world of foxes, can a hedgehog change the world other than by force?

What Hoffer said in an an essay from March 2, 1969 called The Worth of an Average American is this: “If we want to bring freedom to non-free countries we cannot do it by inculcating a love of freedom, or by having them copy our constitution, but by transmitting to the common people the technological and social expertise which would enable them to do things on their own without masters to shove them around.” (page 129 in The Syndicated News Articles)

Hoffer goes on to tell a personal story. At the height of the Depression, he was living on Skid Row. A construction company that was building a road through the San Bernardino Mountains, instead of engaging an employment agency, sent two trucks around to the slums and picked up anyone who wanted to work. They arrived at the work site to find all the supplies and equipment needed and one foreman. He said little and let the men organize themselves. They built the road.

Hoffer speculated what sort of man this guy was. “Not an intellectual – that’s for sure. Not a businessman either. An ex-hobo perhaps?” Hoffer speculates he might have been an ex-miltary officer. He cites General Patton, “Never tell an American how to do a thing. Tell him what you want done and he’ll surprise you by his ingenuity.”

In another essay on The American in Every Man, Hoffer says, “To me it seems axiomatic that the common people everywhere are our natural allies and that our chief contribution to the advancement of mankind should be the energizing and activation of lowly folk. We must learn how to impart to common people everywhere the technological, political, and social skills which would enable them to dispense with the tutorship of the upper classes and the intellectuals. We must deflate the pretensions of self-appointed elites. These elites will hate us no matter what we do, and it is legitimate for us to help dump them into the dustbin of history.”

Now Hoffer was writing in the 1960s and the Americanism he was writing about was the self-reliance of the average man, the limited government that does not interfere with a man’s pursuit of his own good and his own happiness. Since then, many changes have taken place both materially and technologically.

But the elites still want to rule us. They want to limit our actions through taxes and regulations. They want to limit our freedom by restricting what we can say, do and ingest. To be sure, our governments and ruling elites are not the “non-free countries” he mentions. But we can treat them as such for the purpose of this argument.

And as Hoffer says, we cannot sell liberty as such to the people, “we cannot do it by inculcating a love of freedom, or by having them copy our constitution” (read adopting the non-aggression principle). The way to sell liberty is to “deflate the pretensions of self-appointed elites”, to promote the idea that the people can do things for themselves, that they don’t need to be directed or ordered around by the elite.

We must appeal to the inherent foxiness, the inherent natural abilities of people to do things for themselves, rather than wait for orders or kowtow to masters.

When libertarians pontificate about the evils of government, the sanctity of the non-aggression principle and so on, when we focus on a narrow ideal and split hairs over minor points, we become hedgehogs. We become another elite.

Another way of looking at it is that libertarians can achieve a lot by taking a leaf from the self-help movement – by teaching people that they are capable of self-rule. Instead of focusing on a negative, focus on the positive.

Originally published at

Open This Content

Anarchism as Constitutionalism

Written by Roderick Long.

I was recently pointed to, or reminded of, Robert J. Bidinotto’s article The Contradiction in Anarchism. The article is nearly a decade old, so I don’t know whether Bidinotto still stands by everything in it; but his criticisms of Market Anarchism are nonetheless worth addressing.

Bidinotto contrasts Market Anarchism unfavourably with constitutionally limited government. Because ‘conflicting philosophies will lead to conflicting interpretations of the meaning of such basic terms as ‘aggression,’ ‘self-defense,’ ‘property,’ ‘rights,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘liberty,” Bidinotto argues, it follows that while Market Anarchists may ‘believe that they are merely advocating ‘competition’ in the protection of rights,’ their system would in practice involve ‘competition’ in defining what ‘rights’ are.’ Under limited government, the acts of private agents ‘are limited by the government,’ while ‘government agents themselves are limited by the Constitution.’ By contrast, under Market Anarchism, ‘no private company would deliberately handcuff itself, with separations and divisions of powers, and checks and balances.’ Given consumer sovereignty, the rulers of society under Market Anarchism would be the ‘same guys who rule it now,’ brought to power ‘by the same popular constituency that now elects them’; but under Market Anarchism, by contrast with limited government, ‘there’d be no institutional limits on their behavior.’

I agree with Bidinotto that the use of force needs to be governed by constitutional restraints. But I suspect he’s being misled by a metaphysically illusive picture of what constitutional restraints are and how they work.

First of all, when we speak of constitutional restraints we are presumably not talking merely of restrictions written into a legal document. Such paper prohibitions are neither necessary (look at Britain) nor sufficient (look at Soviet Russia) for actually operative restraints. What matters is a nation’s ‘constitution’ in the original sense of the actual institutions, practices, and incentive structures that are in place.

But a constitution in that sense has no existence independent of the actual behaviour and interactions of actual human beings. The metaphysical illusion I referred to is the habit of thinking of ‘separations and divisions of powers, and checks and balances,’ as though these structures existed in their own right, as external limitations on society as a whole. But in fact those structures exist only insofar as they are continually maintained in existence by human agents acting in certain systematic ways. A constitution is not some impersonal, miraculously self-enforcing robot. It’s an ongoing pattern of behaviour, and it persists only so long as human agents continue to conform to that pattern in their actions.

Since human beings have free will, no social pattern of behaviour can be automatically self-perpetuating; nothing whose survival depends on the choices of free agents can be guaranteed to survive. (Hence Bidinotto’s dismissal of the Icelandic experience with a competitive legal system on the grounds that it ‘didn’t last’ and so must have lacked ‘viability’ is off the mark ‘ to say nothing of the fact that Iceland’s stateless period lasted successfully for over three centuries, which is a lot longer than the United States has lasted so far.) But such social patterns can be more or less likely to survive. A way of interacting that tends, by and large, to give most of the people participating in it an incentive to keep interacting in that way is more likely to survive than one that does not.

The constitution of a free society, then, needs to be a pattern of interaction in which people act ‘ and in so doing give themselves and/or one another an incentive to keep acting ‘ in ways that tend to maintain freedom. Market Anarchists and proponents of limited government both claim to be offering such a pattern. The choice between government and anarchy, then, is not a choice between having a constitution and not having one; it is a choice between two different constitutions. Far from eschewing ‘separations and divisions of powers, and checks and balances,’ Market Anarchists take market competition, with its associated incentives, to instantiate a checks-and-balances system, and to do so far more reliably than could a governmental system. As I’ve written elsewhere, despite the best intentions of those who framed the U.S. Constitution’s checks-and-balances system ‘there has been sufficient convergence of interests among the three branches that, despite occasional squabbles over details, each branch has been complicit with the others in expanding the power of the central government. Separation of powers, like federalism and elective democracy, merely simulates market competition, within a fundamentally monopolistic context.’

Anarchy thus represents the extension, not the negation, of constitutionalism. As Gustave de Molinari, the founder of Market Anarchism, wrote in his 1884 work Political Evolution and Revolution: ‘The future will bring neither the absorption of society by the state, as the communists and collectivists believe, nor the suppression of the state which is the dream of the [non-market] anarchists and nihilists. It will bring the diffusion of the state within society.’ (This quotation incidentally shows how to answer Chris Sciabarra’s charge that Market Anarchism posits an untenable ‘dualism’ between society and government. Rather a Hegelian synthesis!)

Bidinotto thinks that legal services cannot be supplied on the market because a functioning market presupposes a functioning legal order; hence government is a ‘a precondition of the market.’ Now it is true that a functioning market requires a functioning legal order; but it is equally true that a functioning legal order requires a functioning market. This is obviously true if the legal order is Market Anarchism; but it is no less true when the legal order is a government. As Anthony de Jasay has recently pointed out, states can arise only in societies wealthy and orderly enough to maintain them. Hence a state cannot exist unless there is a functioning economy of some sort. (Anarchists take this to show that the state is a parasite on productive activity; the most the minarchist can claim is that it is a luxury good.) In any case, a functioning market and a functioning legal order arise together; it’s not as though one shows up on the scene first and then paves the way for the other. To think otherwise is to fall once more into the metaphysical illusion that economic activity takes place against the background of a legal framework whose existence is somehow independent of the activity it constrains.

Bidinotto complains, as we’ve seen, that competing providers of legal services in an anarchic order will have conflicting interpretations of justice. No doubt they will. But how is this different from the system he favours? The whole point of having a checks-and-balances system presupposes that the agents who administer the system will have conflicting interpretations of justice. There’d be no point in having distinct branches of government limiting each other, or having the people limit the government through the franchise, if unanimity on questions of justice could be expected. In both Market Anarchism and limited government, then, the working of the system will involve different parties trying to enact their several conceptions of justice. The best system is not one that eliminates such conflict ‘ no system can eliminate it ‘ but one that does the best job of providing its constituent agents with an incentive to resolve their disputes a) peacefully, and b) in a manner favourable to individual liberty. The question is: which does a better job of this ‘ markets or governments?

In response to the Market Anarchist claim that private agencies would be led by market incentives to resolve disputes peacefully rather than violently, Bidinotto counters: ‘What about a reputation for customer satisfaction ‘ and the profits that go with getting results?’ But of course the incentive to violate rights in order to please one’s customers/constituents is going to be present both for the private protection entrepreneur in an anarchic system and for the elected politician in a governmental system. The difference, Bidinotto thinks, is that the elected politician is restrained by ‘checks and balances’ while the private entrepreneur is not. But Bidinotto does not explain why market incentives cannot function as ‘checks and balances.’

Bidinotto hopes to discredit Market Anarchism by portraying ‘Bosnia, Somalia, Beirut, Northern Ireland, South Africa and . . . American inner cities’ as real-life examples of societies with ‘competing protection agencies.’ The examples seem ill-chosen, however, since in all the cases he mentions the social chaos is the result of government policies. (With regard to Somalia, for example, the civil war broke out primarily in those parts of the country that had been under the central government before its collapse; the rival gangs were fighting over which of them was to be the new government. Meanwhile, the parts of the country that had never fallen under government control, but had been living under an anarchist legal order since time immemorial, remained relatively peaceful.)

In any case, trying to refute anarchism by pointing to undesirable instances of anarchy is about as bad an argument as trying to refute Bidinotto’s advocacy of government by pointing to the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Whether a state is horrendous or decent depends in large part on its constitutional structure; whether an anarchic society is horrendous or decent likewise depends on its constitutional structure. Because he apparently does not see that an anarchic society can have a constitutional structure, Bidinotto does not realise that anarchies can differ in constitutional structure just as states can. But the historical record clearly shows that anarchies can come in peaceful and productive forms, not just violent ones.

What guarantees that private entrepreneurs under Market Anarchism will not behave in tyrannical and abusive ways? The answer, of course, is that nothing ‘guarantees’ it, just as nothing ‘guarantees’ that governmental politicians will not behave likewise. But under which system is such behaviour most likelyto be restrained? The superiority of anarchy over government here lies in the fact that under government the tie between the decision to commit aggression and the cost of that aggression is far weaker than under Market Anarchism. Under a governmental system, the cost of state policies leading to war is borne by taxpayers and conscripts, not by the politicians who crafted those policies. Under Market Anarchism, by contrast, agencies who resolve disputes through violence rather than arbitration will have to charge higher premiums and will thus lose customers. A government can’t lose ‘customers’ (taxpayers) unless they take the drastic step of moving to a new country; by contrast, switching protection agencies would be as easy as switching long distance service. The proper response to Bidinotto’s challenge ‘If the ‘demand’ for peace is paramount, please explain the bloody history of the world’ is: the bloody history of the world is the result of governments buying war at less than the market price by shifting the costs to their subjects.

Similar reasoning applies to Bidinotto’s worries about each special interest group hiring its own protection agency. Under the governmental system, special interest groups don’t have to pay the full costs of their policies; they get politicians to fund their schemes out of the general tax base. It’s relatively costless for special interests to demand that government impose their particular values on society. But suppose that, under Market Anarchism, when you get your monthly bill from Acme Security Company, you see that you’re paying $X for ‘basic service’ (protection against force and fraud) and $Y for ‘premium service’ (snooping on your neighbours to make sure that they’re not taking drugs or having abortions or playing violent video games). The number of bigots who would be willing to pay to have their own values forcibly imposed is bound to be smaller than the number of bigots who merely advocate such imposition. Talk is cheap. And the few fanatics who are willing to put their money where their mouth is would be easier to deal with under anarchy; you can’t arrest people who lobby for government-imposed aggression, but you can arrest people who aggress.

It’s true that people living under anarchy might disagree about the definition of aggression. But if two security agencies disagree about how exactly to define property rights in some particular case, they can fight it out ‘ thus sending their costs through the roof and their customers to the nearest competitor ‘ or they can resolve their dispute through peaceful arbitration, thus keeping their costs low and their customers happy. (Governments resort to force far more often, since they don’t have to worry so much about losing customers. Though it’s worth noting that even governments interact peacefully most of the time, even though they face an artificially low cost of war. Private security agencies, which would have to buy at the market price, would choose war even less often.)

So disputes are likely to be resolved peacefully. But how likely are they to be resolved correctly? Admittedly nothing guarantees this. But a) a competitive court system is more likely to be information-generating than a top-down legislative system, for familiar Hayekian reasons; and b) since aggression is costlier than non-aggression, the dispute-resolution will tend to favour laws with a broadly libertarian content.

Bidinotto advises us to recall ‘what Adam Smith had to say about businessmen.’ What Smith had to say, of course, was that ‘people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.’ Smith’s meaning was that businessmen are constantly running to government for favours, trying to get subsidies or protectionist legislation. And as Smith looked around him, he saw that generally they succeeded. Though he campaigned tirelessly for free trade, he did not expect to succeed; ‘to expect,’ he wrote, ‘that the freedom of trade should ever be entirely restored in Great Britain, is as absurd as to expect that an Oceana or Utopia should ever be established in it.’ Smith rightly saw government as the malign tool of wealthy private interests rather than a fence against them.

That is not to say that there is no reason to worry about the power of the wealthy in a Market Anarchist society; I’ve written at length about the dangers, and possible solutions to them, in my article ‘Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class’ (Social Philosophy & Policy 15, no. 2 (Summer 1998). But the notion that the danger of plutocracy is less under government is hard to believe. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Indeed, government magnifies the power of the rich. Suppose I’m an evil billionaire, and I want to achieve some goal X that costs one million dollars. Under a free-market system, I have to cough up one million of my own dollars in order to achieve this goal. But when there’s a powerful government in charge, I can (directly or indirectly) bribe some politicians with a few thousands in order to achieve my million-dollar goal X. Since the politicians are paying for X with tax money rather than out of their own pocket, they lose nothing by this deal.

Market Anarchists have often pointed out that market incentives would tend to favour a harmonisation of legal standards across society. But for Bidinotto this simply amounts to a re-emergence of the monopoly state: if ‘a group of agencies decides to impose a mutually-agreed-upon framework on everyone,’ then ‘no one would be allowed to ignore or secede from the verdict imposed by the majority of agencies,’ and so the legal system is no longer a competitive one. This seems false. First, the common framework need not be imposed by force; it may come about simply because agencies whose policies are incompatible with the majority system will lose customers, going the way of Betamax. Second, even if the common framework is imposed by force, what’s required is a set of standards, not a set of institutions. If there are no barriers to entry ‘ if a new security agency can start up any time ‘ how is the system not competitive? (Those interested in the question of how a cooperative network of security agencies differs from a state should consult Bryan Caplan’s article on this topic.)

When one person uses force against another, Bidinotto observes, ‘it’s rarely self-evident who is the victim, and who the victimizer’; but since ‘maintaining a functioning society requires that the rest of us determine who is at fault, so that our rights will be protected and justice maintained,’ it follows that ‘it is no ‘violation of rights’ to require individuals to submit to an objective process to justify, publicly, their uses of force.’

Bidinotto’s point here is well-taken. But what does it have to do with arguing against Market Anarchism? Why couldn’t an anarchic legal order likewise require that individuals ‘submit to an objective process to justify, publicly, their uses of force’? The voluminous historical evidence (which Bidinotto inexplicably dismisses) indicates that anarchic legal systems have traditionally done precisely this. (If the worry is that only a monopolistic system could be ‘objective,’ see my previous argument to the contrary.)

While Bidinotto acknowledges a ‘right to respond forcefully in immediate defense of one’s life and values against aggression,’ he insists that ‘after-the-fact forceful responses are illegitimate, and must be left to an objective, impartial agency.’ I think he has a good point here. But again, it’s unclear why he thinks this point tells against Market Anarchism ‘ unless he’s erroneously inferring from ‘Each person must delegate retaliation to an impartial third party’ to ‘There must be an impartial third party to whom each person delegates retaliation.’ (That would be an example of the fallacy of composition, wherein one infers from, e.g., ‘Everyone likes at least one TV show’ to ‘There’s at least one TV show that everyone likes.’)

Let me end with a note of protest against Bidinotto’s claim that Lysander Spooner’s argument that we never signed the Constitution is irrelevant, because the Constitution is a limitation on the federal government, not on us. Bidinotto’s critique drops the historical context: a war had just been waged to prevent the South from seceding, so obviously the Constitution was being interpreted as a constraint on parties other than the federal government.

Originally published at

For an expanded analysis on this topic, see this essay.

Open This Content

Women Should Stay Out of Politics

Written by Nicholas Hooton.

A coalition calling itself “Real Women Run” recently began a campaign to get more Utah women into politics (2011). They observe that about half of Utahns are women, yet they make up only 17% of the legislature. They point out that Utah ranks 43rd nationally for female representation in its state legislature.

Many implicit assumptions are held by this group. Since they aim to create interest among Utah women in engaging in the political process, they assume women should have an interest in it. Why should anyone have an interest in politics? As noted social critic Albert Jay Nock explained, “There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.”

It may be said alternatively that there is a peaceful method and a violent method for achieving one’s desires. As George Washington observed, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force!” The numbers cited by the Real Women Run coalition indicate that the majority of Utah women employ peaceful means to their ends as opposed to the violent means of government.

It is no mystery as to why there are more men in politics than women. I am by no means ashamed of my gender, but there are certain physiological traits possessed in general by men that result in other statistics, such as the fact that most serial killers are men. This group would certainly not see the disparity in representation in this group and advocate for women to become more interested in murder.

Psychologists have found that, although the genders are more or less equally aggressive, men are more likely to act out their aggression through physical violence, as well as many other risk-taking behaviors. Aggressive risk-taking and charisma make politicians electable, but also give them a high probability of narcissism and antisocial inclinations. It may also explain why marital infidelity seems so prevalent among politicians. It doesn’t seem that the traits that make for successful politicians are those that ought to be sought by women.

Another humorous assumption held by this coalition is that government is, or should be, representative of the people. Although this assumption is held near and dear to the hearts of Americans, it is not supported by history or common sense. Government is representative only of the interests – corporate or otherwise – that are able to successfully parlay dollars and favors in their efforts to secure favorable political treatment for their business or cause. Legislatures are nothing more than marketplaces for the political means, where legislators may be bought and sold, and their services employed by the highest bidder.

The lack of representation of women in government ought to be a source of pride, one of the highest compliments that can be paid to the gender. Instead of encouraging more women to be engaged in the political process, coalitions ought to encourage men – encourage all – to abandon the political process in exchange for the peaceful and voluntary cooperation and association indicative of a civilized people, a way of living women ought to be proud to have mastered.

Originally published at

Open This Content

A Moral Challenge

Written by Carl Watner.

I have recently been having correspondence with my son about the morality of government taxation, and it prompted this “challenge.” I maintain that taxation is theft and contrary to the universally accepted moral principles: thou shall not steal and thou shall not murder. While these two principles are found in the Ten Commandments, they are also embraced by people of non-Judeo-Christian belief. They form the basis of every civilization because without them there can be no peaceful social cooperation or voluntary exchanges between human beings.

Most of the people I have spoken to over the years think that government taxation is not theft because government is a necessary social institution. The attainment of the common good requires taxes to support government. Thus, those who evade paying their proper share or those who object to how their tax money is spent (the pacifist – on war; the Catholic – on abortion; the anarchist – in general) must be threatened with force beforehand. If they refuse to pay they will ultimately have their property confiscated and sold at auction or they will find themselves imprisoned (either after a conviction for violating the tax laws or for contempt of court [for refusing to obey a judge’s orders to cooperate]). If they violently refuse to cooperate with the marshals that come to take their property or arrest them, they will be subdued or killed.

These actions by government agents are “stealing” and/or “killing” by any commonly accepted definition of those terms. Aren’t government employees doing the same thing as members of the criminal gang: taking property or life without the owner’s consent? As Murray Rothbard (For A New Liberty, 1973, p. 55) once asked: Is there a way to define taxation so as to morally differentiate it from robbery?

Furthermore, consider the fact that there is a moral way to collect taxes (without force or violence): Try rational argument and persuasion.

If government is really as necessary as most people think, then it ought to be quite simple to convince others to support it (or at least support as much of it as they believe is necessary). Instead of threatening people, educate them. Convince them. Demonstrate why they ought to contribute to government. Threatening them with force is not a way to answer their arguments against paying.

If those who refuse to pay taxes at all, or who selectively refuse to pay part of their taxes (for whatever reason), cannot be convinced, then they ought to be left alone. They ought not to be placed in jail or stolen from. Deny them whatever government services they are not willing to pay for.

And, if the supporters of government are still unable to collect enough in taxes to support the amount of government they deem necessary, then they ought to dig deeper into their own pockets. The fact that government is a “good cause” is no justification for stealing from or killing those who refuse to support it.

My challenge to people of good will is to recognize the logic and morality of my argument. The first step in universalizing the commandments against stealing and killing is to admit that taxation is theft, even if one cannot understand how government and society would function in the absence of coercive tax collection.

Originally published at

Open This Content