Posts by Darren

A tribute to those who fight for us

Well, it's that time of year again where we thank those who fight for our freedoms and keep us safe from foreign invasion. So I'd like to thank the ACLU, the Institute for Justice, the Mises Institute, the Free State Project, the Libertarian Party, and all of the other organizations and individuals out there who spend great time and resources fighting for individual human rights against the state. And I'd like to thank all those private citizens who exercise their right to keep and bear arms (and plenty of ammo) for keeping us safe over the years as the US has never been invaded unprovoked and probably could not be invaded unprovoked due to the massive private gun ownership among the population. And I'd like to especially thank these individuals and organizations for keeping us safe and defending our rights on a strictly voluntary basis without confiscating payment at the point of a gun or forcibly suppressing their competition. Thank you.

Categories: activism

A couple of quotes from Snow Crash

I just finished listening to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and wanted to share a couple of great quotes from it (no spoilers here). Here’s the first: [Government] was invented to do stuff that private enterprise doesn’t bother with, which means that there’s probably no reason for it… The second is an internal government memo to [...]

Continue reading at No Coercion …

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Adventures in jury duty

Today I had jury duty--or, as I prefer to call it, jury conscription. I was selected to sit for voir dire for a civil case. Before getting around to hardship questions (which was my chief practical concern, seeing as how I'm a stay-at-home-dad unable to find alternative childcare for an entire week), the plaintiff's attorney asked if anyone had any "strong feelings" about our civil justice system.

My hand shot up.

He looked a bit surprised, as if it was the kind of question he asks as a matter of course but is accustomed to receiving only the chirping of crickets in response. He asked me to explain. I raised my voice to ensure even the spectators in the back row could hear me and told him that I was absolutely opposed to the entire concept of forced jury duty and that I believed that qualified as "strong feelings." His mild surprise became something more like disbelief, and the judge gave me the arched eyebrow. Murmurs went through the court room, and I heard a couple of jurors in the box with me give quiet exclamations of "Yeah!"

The attorney said, "But yet here you are. You still came today."

To this I replied (while gesturing toward the judge and bailiff), "Yes, because they have the guns and can force me." Louder murmurs from the crowd and jury box, and quite a bit of laughter this time, too.

The attorney nodded at me, conceding the point. He then informed me that jury duty is just something you do as a citizen, like paying your taxes--"You pay taxes, right?" I said, "Yes, I do, because I'm on the receiving end of the threat of force." He then looked around to the entire jury box and said, "Do you all understand that jury duty is a requirement, a part of being a citizen? You understand that, right?" A few nods, a few stony stares.

He gave up trying to convince me of the morality of forced labor and simply asked if my feelings would prevent me from deciding on the case fairly and impartially. I admitted that, since it was a civil case, my objection to the government's actions would have no bearing on my decisions regarding the case.

Interestingly, after this exchange, another juror spoke up and said that he agreed--that he was only there because of the government's ability to compel him (okay, he wasn't that eloquent). Then juror after juror (some of whom had had a chance to speak earlier) started coming up with what appeared to be rather contrived reasons they couldn't serve. It seemed I had emboldened some of them to refuse to just go along.

Eventually, the attorney got around to asking about hardships and asked me about my situation as a stay-at-home-dad. I said that I would not be able to arrange childcare for them beyond today. The judge, looking a bit exasperated, said that that fact, combined with my "earlier statements" meant I would be excused from jury duty.

However, as I stood up to leave the court room, the judge said, "Hang on a second." My spider-sense told me he was about to make a critical mistake. I was right. "What do you suggest we do if jury duty isn't compulsory? Just ask for volunteers!?"

Yep, that's right--he actually gave me a platform to discuss the issue in front of the entire court room (there were 50-60 people in there).

"Yes! Ask for volunteers, that's fine. Just don't use force against innocent people."

He goes on, "So what should we do if a bunch of people with an interest in having the case decided a certain way come along and volunteer to be on the jury? Should we just have some government official make the decision instead of a jury?"

I replied that I was in fact opposed to the entire idea of a government monopoly on dispute resolution and that private individuals and firms should handle such things on a voluntary basis. He asked if I meant things like arbitration firms. I said that, yes, that was a great example of what I was talking about and things like that could well take the place of a monopoly court system. I said that the most important thing was not to force innocent people to do things against their will. The court room was dead silent, some people looking confused, but many aiming huge smiles my way. The judge just shook his head and said, "Okay...good luck to you" (though he said it in that way you'd talk to your idiot friend who was about to do something fantastically stupid and dangerous and wouldn't be talked out of it).

As I left, the bailiff whispered something to me while grinning quite genuinely. I couldn't make it out clearly, but the message seemed to be one of support and admiration. Then, as I passed the last row of spectators, an old man rather reminiscent of Morgan Freeman grabbed my hand and shook it, smiling ear to ear.

There you have it. I consider today a minor victory in the long struggle to shift social consciousness away from legitimization of the state.
[Author's note: while the dialogue here is not how things went down verbatim, it's awfully damn close.]

[Housekeeping note: I apologize for the state of my blog; I upgraded it and promptly lost my blogroll and all my categories. I'm rather incompetent in these matters and have no idea how to fix it yet.]

Categories: activism
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Casey Anthony and avoiding alpha error

Let me say up front that I haven’t really followed the recent Casey Anthony trial and associated goings-on, so I apologize if I’m covering well-trodden territory or leaving out something important. I picked up a little from my wife (who follows that sort of news) and have read a few items since the acquittal, so I’m going to give my take based on that base of knowledge. I also want to stress that nothing I say here should be construed to mean that I’m defending the violent monopolization of law and justice to which we all are subject.

It seems what we have here is an instance of an individual whose child died; circumstances seemed suspicious to Nancy Grace, a bunch of emotional and easily manipulated Americans, and–most significantly–a government persecutor…er, I mean, prosecutor; and the state failed to prove its case that the accused killed her child. The result has been that many of those aforementioned Americans have become incoherent, bloodlusting, foaming-at-the-mouth animals calling for vigilante justice (which, when defined as a victim (or his assigned agent) seeking justice from his aggressor, I’m not necessarily opposed to but which is quite clearly not how it’s being used here) and something they’re calling “Caylee’s Law,” which would make it “a felony for a parent, legal guardian, or caretaker to not notify law enforcement of the disappearance of a child within 24 hours of the time that they know the child is missing.”

What also happened is that the justice system actually sort of did what it was supposed to do–avoided the alpha error. In criminal justice, the alpha error (analogous to the more general alpha error in statistics) is the punishment of an innocent person. The absolute necessity of minimizing the alpha error is one of the great aspects of the American justice system (and yes, I feel like a need to shower after paying that system a compliment). It’s why the accused is considered “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s what helps protect Nancy Grace and all her newly minted clones out there if ever they’re accused of a crime they didn’t commit. It’s one of the foundations of Western law. The idea is that it’s far better to allow 100 murderers to go free than send one innocent person to prison or the gallows. In this instance, the justice system stuck to that principle, and a good chunk of the American public is up in arms about it.

(I should note that Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder but was convicted of lying to the cops, something that Anthony Gregory argues—and I agree—should not be a crime: “The Right to Lie to the Cops”.)

Radley Balko has a great piece on the irrationality of this Caylee’s Law thing (“Why ‘Caylee’s Law’ is a Bad Idea”). He gets right to the heart of the matter toward the end:

In a country of 308 million people, bad things are going to happen. We already have laws against murder, child abuse, and child neglect. When you pass laws that make it easier to imprison people in cases where the state doesn’t have enough evidence to prove the crime everyone knows they’re actually prosecuting, you undermine the integrity of the justice system. The “flaw” that led to the Casey Anthony verdict is pretty straightforward: The state failed to prove its case. And the government must prove its case, even when all of America is 100 percent certain of the defendant’s guilt, because we want to be sure the state will always also have to prove its case when we aren’t so certain.

So what it comes down to is that by requiring the presumption of innocence and demanding that the state actually prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of a dozen different people, a guilty person may have gone free, but the falsely accused everywhere have been protected (to whatever extent that’s possible under a forcibly monopolized justice system).

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Agorist business ideas

Agorism, if you’re new to the term, is revolutionary market anarchism. It begins with the premise that the state is a criminal entity because it commits aggression (theft and prohibition of peaceful production and exchange), and it (agorism) is described as seeking the development of the underground economy (gray and black markets) to the point that it is able to provide law and security on a voluntary, market basis and eventually suppress the criminal state right along with other criminal elements. In order for the underground economy (or counter-economy) to develop enough to lead to market demand for contractual law and security, it must first develop in other areas. Since the counter-economy is removed from state taxation and regulation, it also serves to starve the state of the very resources it uses to suppress market activity. The more extensive the counter-economy becomes, the weaker the state becomes. Those who pursue agorism or run consciously counter-economic businesses are agorists.

So, what we need to help further the emergence of a free, stateless society based on voluntary production and exchange is a hell of a lot more agorists. We need agorist mechanics, manufacturers, landscapers, farmers, electricians, doctors, dentists, grocers, carpenters, mail carriers, teachers, bankers…the list is as endless as the list in the government-sanctioned economy. There’s a short list of categories at the agorism wiki.

I know some of you out there are currently involved in agorist businesses, and many others are interested in starting one. I’d love for you to share what your business is or other agorist business ideas you might have so that we can have a nice little repository of ideas for would-be agorists to think about and choose from. Also, please share any tips you have for…let’s say, avoiding imperial entanglements. It can be tricky to run a brick and mortar shop without the local government eventually finding out about it and launching an attack. Hell, it can be tricky even if you’re mobile. You want to promote your business but without alerting the dominant criminal organization. So any thoughts in that area would be invaluable.

Comment away!

Categories: Anarchism

Share your favorite liberating technologies

As governments continue to aggress against peaceful individuals and close off officially approved avenues of production and exchange (i.e. actions taken to improve one’s well-being), it will become increasingly necessary to use every tool available to counter the state and build a free society. I believe that the rapidly advancing state of certain technologies could benefit individuals and distributed networks of freedom-fighters at the expense of the state. I consider these to be liberating technologies. It could include things like alternative currencies, online security, actual physical security tools, small-scale crop production, open source hardware for things like personal fabrication and construction of buildings, communications and counter-surveillance tools, recording/shaming of cops and politicians, seasteading, etc.

What I’d like to do is have my readers comment below, sharing your favorite liberating technologies—not just categories, but specific products and services, even if they’re only hypothetical at this point. This is an area in which I feel quite under-educated, and I think everyone would benefit from the sharing and cross-pollination of ideas.

The more we are able to learn and the more of us who are able to incorporate some of these tools into our lives, the better off we’ll be and the sooner a free society will evolve and crowd out the state and its banditry. Let the sharing begin!

Categories: Anarchism, activism
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Do successes justify government science?

I just ran across this really interesting article about a NASA engineer who’s devised (at least on the chalkboard) a method of aneutronic fusion that could provide post-launch propulsion 40 times more efficiently than modern ion engines. Now, I have friends who expend a lot of energy defending government funding of science and technology development, and they latch onto instances of success (even if only theoretical) like this to try to justify tax-funded science. They say, “See! A government scientist/engineer came up with something that could be of great value, so it’s important to keep funding government science.”

I have both an ethical criticism and an economic/praxeological criticism of this argument.  On the ethical side, I would point out that the ends never justify the means. Many scientists and engineers throughout history have, at the point of a gun, produced great discoveries and valuable inventions; the Nazi and Soviet regimes come immediately to mind. But I assume few people would say that these successes justify the forced labor that produced them. Likewise, I argue that taxation, which is a form of forced labor, cannot be justified by appealing to any successes that it ends up funding.

As for the economic/praxeological criticism, it’s pretty straightforward. Yes, a government employee may have invented something valuable, but what discoveries and inventions would have been produced in the absence of taxation and government science programs? We’ll never know; but we do know that the pressure to respond to actual consumer preferences would have been greater. Absent the particular technological path carved out by government confiscation of property/money, directed use of such property/money, and regulations closing off certain avenues of research and development, it’s possible—I would even say likely—that whatever might have been the current state of the art in all the various fields of science and engineering, it would be better serving human needs and would be far more peaceful in nature. I often hear people ask, only partly tongue-in-cheek, where their flying cars are. Well, if the government hadn’t restricted aviation development by taking over control of airspace and subsidized auto development by building huge amounts of roads and the interstate highway system, we all might well have had flying cars by now.

Now, at this point a defender of government science will sometimes chime in with a comment about how basic science is better funded by government because it usually has no obvious short run payoff but could have immense long-run value. The problem with this argument is that there is no reason to prefer research that could maybe have a big long-run payoff over research that is much more likely to have short-run or medium-run payoff. It’s possible the short-run-payoff research will inadvertently lead to an amazing, highly valuable discovery and that the long-run-payoff research will never produce anything of value. Governments (for whom costs  are socialized and profit and loss inapplicable since their funding is not obtained voluntarily) have no possibility of rationally allocating scarce resources–it always ends up being arbitrary from the perspective of consumers. When it comes to the allocation of scarce resources among competing alternatives, the only person qualified to decide that allocation is the owner of the resources (for whom costs internalized) and only when he is paid voluntarily by those who believe they will gain by trading with him.

When governments allocate resources, they’re using stolen money (behaving unethically) and acting without an ability to rationally choose among competing alternatives (behaving foolishly).

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FDA decides to stop hurting lots of people

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a drug that is able to cure most patients with Hepatitis C. This drug, Incivek, will save thousands of lives per year and help many thousands of other patients who would not have died but would have suffered and been dependent on much less effective and slower-acting treatments. One might be tempted, given certain kinds of government school and media indoctrination, to get a warm fuzzy and proceed to high-five the FDA for taking this action to help so many people.

Of course, there’s another way to look at this that requires removing your state-imposed blinders: the FDA has decided to stop harming and killing thousands of people per year. After all, if it’s true that this drug helps thousands of people per year, then every year it existed but was prohibited by the FDA from being placed on the market, the FDA was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and harm to thousands more. There were thousands of sick patients who had the option of that drug denied them through government threat of violence. Had someone had been caught trying to manufacture and sell that drug to a willing buyer prior to FDA approval, they would literally have been arrested (or threatened with arrest) or fined at the very least. That’s no way for civilized human beings to behave toward one another. And it’s hard to even fathom the number of people harmed and killed–and currently suffering and dying–because of all the other drugs the FDA has delayed or blocked and is still delaying and blocking.

So don’t congratulate the violent thugs at the FDA for helping people–condemn them (and their fellow aggressors in the White House and Congress) for hurting and killing so many innocent people. Speak out against these hideous institutions that so many people mindlessly bow before, thank, and make offerings to. These are not just and noble entities–they are institutionalized assaults on humanity and peace and reason, and they’ll only be defeated when we are able to get enough people to remove their blinders.

Fight of the Century debuts!

What’s the word for this? Heroic? Epic? Winning? Her-ep-ing? It’s possible we may need a whole new unit of measure to properly describe this. John Papola and Cafe Hayek’s Russ Roberts have reprised their hit Keynes-Hayek econ rap (Fear the Boom and Bust) with Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek, Round 2.

I am really, really impressed with this. Incredible production and epic lyrics. Here are some of my favorite bits:

The economy’s not a car, there’s no engine to stall
No expert can fix it, there’s no “it” at all
The economy’s us, we don’t need a mechanic
Put away the wrenches, the economy’s organic!

Creating employment’s a straightforward craft
When the nation’s at war, and there’s a draft
If every worker was staffed in the army and fleet
We’d have full employment–and nothing to eat!

The lesson I’ve learned? It’s how little we know
The world is complex, not some circular flow
The economy’s not a class you can master in college
To think otherwise is the pretense of knowledge

A brilliant portrayal of the eternal battle between oppression and freedom, between coercion and voluntary interaction, between conceit and humility, between collectivism and individualism…between those who would rule over others and those who want each person free to rule himself.

Spread the word.

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Why not just become an anarchist?

This question is directed to a certain, possibly large, group of people: those who, when debating anarchism, concede that it is true that social arrangements and interactions should be purely voluntary, that it is fundamentally unjust to initiate force against others (even in the name of funding for security and dispute resolution), but who then insist that they cannot subscribe to anarchism/voluntaryism because of their reservations about how it would play out on a practical level in the real world.

This is a position I don’t understand. Isn’t it somewhat akin to someone in the days of chattel slavery claiming that they surely see the injustice of slavery but simply can’t become an abolitionist and agitate for the abolition of slavery because they can’t see how society would work without it?

So what if you don’t know how adjudication or immigration or crime control or defense against foreign states would be handled in a stateless society? So what if you can’t quite see how voluntary mechanisms would evolve to produce safe food and drugs, efficient roads, and a well-educated population? Neither can I! Who cares? If you recognize something to be wrong, then for the love of all that’s decent and sacred, declare your utter opposition to it, and call for it’s elimination!

Hey, a stateless society won’t emerge overnight, anyway, so why the reluctance to embrace the philosophy? Why not just become an anarchist and advocate for the abolition of the state on principle while at the same time taking part in the vibrant and diverse conversations about the ways in which a voluntary society might deal with things currently done by the state? You could even try coming up with a plan for a business or community organization that would take on such tasks in place of the state.

The more individuals who declare their commitment to peaceful, voluntary social relations and act to further that cause, the more people will be exposed to the ideas and the more society will begin to shift in that direction, leading to a steady and organically evolving transition to that state of affairs that you already agree is more just and moral than statism. So all you statists and minarchists out there who agree with the moral case for anarchy, for the love of Rothbard, stop worrying about exactly how things will work, and loudly and proudly declare yourself an anarchist!

[Update: To clear up a potential source of confusion, I’m not saying you ought to use the “anarchist” term in particular. I’m just saying you should (if you agree with the moral argument for a voluntary society) commit to the philosophy and argue for it, regardless of whether you call yourself anarchist, market anarchist, anarchocapitalist, libertarian, voluntaryist, autarchist, or whatever.]

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