Yearly Archives: 2014

The Interview

Last week Sony Entertainment (Columbia Pictures) bowed to pressure from a cyber-terrorist group known as the GOP (Guardians of Peace) and announced that the comedy “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, would not be released to theaters or online. The primary impetus behind this decision appears to be the threat of “9-11” style attacks on any theater that might dare show it. Being unsure of the credibility of the threat it would appear Sony decided to err on the side of caution and thus retracted the film from its anticipated Christmas release.

That decision was met with near universal indignation by basically the whole world. Many found it outrageous that a small group of people (believed to be North Korean government) could dictate to others what they may or may not see. Even President Obama weighed in on the decision, stating that he thought Sony had “made a mistake.”

Ok, so to summarize the events thus far: group of people A is using the threat of violence in order to influence the behavior of group of people B so that group of people C may not experience something that group A does not approve of. When abstracted this way does this pattern now seem more familiar? Yes, government. The only thing different about this situation is that people who are themselves usually in group A (governments and those that support their actions) now find themselves in group C. Not so much fun when someone else is doing the threatening, is it? As Americans, with our long tradition of (mostly) respecting freedom of expression, we are particularly outraged to be denied our basic human right to bear witness to fart jokes. In public we pretend that film banning doesn’t occur here, but privately we must admit that it does. Films have been banned in the US at various governmental levels for varying lengths of time (see: Monty Python’s the Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Tin Drum, The Profit, and Hillary: The Movie).  Most recently the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Google to remove “The Innocence of Muslims” video from their website. America is hardly free of the stain of participating in group threats of violence to prevent others from witnessing particular media.

But yes, we should be upset that anyone would try to use the threat of violence or intimidation in order to influence what we may or may not watch. However, if one wishes to shed all remnants of hypocrisy, then one must also acknowledge that government, all governments, use this exact same method (threat of violence) in order to ensure that the will of some arbitrary group of people living in spot A is imposed upon some other arbitrary group of people living in spot B. Sometimes these threats seek to enforce a ban on a film and sometimes they seek to enforce other arbitrary edicts masquerading as “law”. The ends matter not; it is the means that are illegitimate. If one is rightfully offended that North Korea might seek to use threats of violence to alter ones behavior, then one should likewise take equal offence when anyone, anywhere, at anytime, seeks to alter the peaceful behavior of another with violence or intimidation irrespective of what honorific they endow themselves with.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. A few days later Sony reversed their decision and announced that “The Interview” would appear both online and in theaters, albeit in a limited fashion. Considering how hard someone tried to make sure I couldn’t watch it, well, naturally now I had no choice but to go out of my way to watch it! Was it worth it? Well, as they say, there’s no accounting for taste, but, I did enjoy it. As long as one is exposed to puerile humor in small, intermittent doses (like capsaicin) it can be amusing. This film was not meant to be a political satire. There is no stinging tongue-in-cheek critique of North Korea (although unexpectedly the Kim Jong-un character zinged his American interviewer with the fact that per capita the US has more people in prison than North Korea (thank you drug war)). There is just some good old-fashioned escapist daydream-as-a-plot in which the main character kills the bad guy, saves the country from nuclear annihilation, and becomes the hero he always believed himself to be.

If I had a hammer…

This past week President Obama did a stunning impression of Ron Paul as he outlined a change in US policy toward Cuba. This new, friendlier stance is one Dr. Paul has advocated for years. Nice to see Mr. Obama finally coming around to Ron’s ideas. Perhaps next week Obama will announce an audit of the Federal Reserve! Although I don’t agree with the president about very much, he deserves to be commended for making a move that runs counter to the status quo. Introducing this new policy, Mr. Obama pointed out all the same facts that Dr. Paul brought up in the 2012 debates; primarily that after 50 years the embargo has been an abject failure in its goal of bringing about the downfall of the Castro regime. On its face the policy makes little sense given that the US has strong diplomatic ties and allows trade with other autocratic Communist regimes (China, Vietnam, Venezuela, etc.).

Yes, Castro is a monster, a cruel tyrant that has directly or indirectly, murdered, tortured and stolen from countless thousands of fellow Cubans. In a very real sense the Castro regime is running an island-size plantation; Cubans are in many respects slaves to their government. So it is understandable why Cubans living in the US would be opposed to trade with Cuba. Doing so is tantamount to buying cotton from a slave plantation. So in theory, cutting off trade seems like a moral and pragmatic idea. It is neither. The empirical evidence of the last 50 years shows us its failure at undermining the Castro regime (if anything it has supported the regime, as the embargo was used as the scapegoat for the failures of the communist system). And although trade restraint might be a moral decision if made by the individual, when the option to make that choice is forced upon us by our government, the morality of this course is drained away. It is OUR right to choose whether or not we will trade or associate with someone, not governments.

This change in policy has more to do with how the governments of each country interact with each other and little to do with what the citizens of those countries are permitted to do. For Cubans, all the same government restrictions on basic economic and social freedoms will remain in place. For Americans there will be an ever so slight loosening of the collar that holds back truly free and unrestricted trade. The hypocrisy of this policy, even in its slightly more liberal state, is laughable. It seeks to punish a tyrannical state that subjugates its citizens by subjugating the rights of citizens in this country. The citizens of both countries are but mere pawns in the game of their masters.

While President Obama is heading in the right direction now, it is a tepid first step at best. If Obama is serious about making a true change, he must pressure Congress to repeal the Helms-Burton Act (1996)  (this act makes it impossible for the President to unilaterally repeal the embargo – thank you President Clinton!). Once repealed, Mr. Obama could finally end the embargo once and for all.

Although ending the embargo would certainly benefit the Castro regime, the benefits to the Cuban people would overwhelm any short-lived financial windfall to the government. They cannot levy a tax on information. Through tourism and business there would be a cross-pollination of knowledge that would fuel the fire of change. Once lit, that fire spreads rapidly, nor is it easily quenched. For example, it is has been proposed that the TV show “Dallas” played a pivotal role in cracking part of the Iron Curtain. Back in the late 1980’s “Dallas” was shown on Romanian state television because the state thought it would engender distaste for the decadence of the west. But it backfired. Once exposed to the possibility of wealth, the people wanted that same opportunity for themselves (income equality sucks when everyone is poor). The lies of state propaganda are the dam that holds back the truth. It takes much effort to build and maintain, but once a crack develops nothing will stop the truth from breaking free and spreading. If only our government will allow it, the American people could be the hammers that crack the Castro’s dam of lies.

Look at the flowers…

The release this past week of the Senate’s “Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” has exposed the dark underbelly of intelligence gathering to the bright daylight of public opinion. This is a good thing (the exposure, not the torture). The release of this information and subsequent national soul-searching reflects the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the American soul (insofar as a country can have such a thing). We, as a nation, are able to strike out and destroy anything that might be harmful while simultaneously being filled with remorse for doing so. “Look at the flowers… look at the flowers” (Walking Dead reference).

So while it is heartening to see the justifiable outrage of those who have learned of the sadistic crimes committed in the name of their “safety”, it is equally discouraging to witness a vigorously jingoistic defense of these crimes. The most common defense offered is a plausibly reasonable one: it produced actionable intelligence that saved lives. You know, the greater good and all. Unfortunately for that narrative, according to the published report, that is not the case. At best the torture only confirmed information that had already been acquired elsewhere using non-torture means.  At worst, people were tortured to prove a negative. That is, the CIA didn’t think the detainees knew anything of value, but they tortured them anyway just to make sure. Let me repeat that so the enormity of that evil sinks in. They tortured people they thought were innocent and of no intelligence value.

The more reprehensible torture defense is the “I just don’t care” defense. This is most succinctly portrayed in a burgeoning Internet meme depicting a person falling from the World Trade Center with the text overlaid “This is why I don’t give a damn how we gathered information from terrorists.” Yes, 9/11 was an awful, horrific, tragic event, but it is a complete non sequitur to conclude that anything done in the name of preventing something similar or finding those responsible is justifiable. For example, the US could nuke every country on the face of the earth except ours – that would definitely prevent another 9/11 and kill the perpetrators – but that doesn’t make such an action “ok”. So if we rightly repudiate the notion of killing billions of innocents to punish the guilty, we should also repudiate the killing (or torture) of even one innocent. It’s not worth it. Why? Well ask yourself how you would feel about that proposition if you were the one innocent person. Not so gung ho now.

Did the CIA likely have some really bad people in custody? Yes. But they also (based on the report data) had a lot of totally innocent people as well. The reason we don’t (or shouldn’t) engage in torture is the same reason we have an innocent until proven guilty court system; it is not out of concern for the guilty, but rather concern for the innocent. This protects you and me from being thrown in prison or tortured on the mere word or hunch of somebody; “so you say Jane’s a witch (terrorist) do you? Well that’s all the information I need, let’s go kill her.”

Should the suspected terrorists have a trial? Yes, every last one in custody. Otherwise how can anyone know if they are actually terrorists? If there is proof, then there should be no problem getting a conviction. But, if you subscribe to the notion that we won’t always have concrete proof, that sometimes we just have to go on conjecture, hearsay, or hunches, then here’s hoping you never end up in a prison of a like-minded country.

“It stops today” Eric Garner, hero

“Please just leave me alone” – these final words of Eric Garner contain much more than a plaintive request. They embody the spirit of his final actions: independence, resistance, and finally resignation. Eric Garner exited this world exhibiting the universally lauded virtue of willing self-sacrifice in pursuit of defending one’s liberty. We have a word for that: hero. Indeed, throughout human history the traits of independence, resistance to tyranny and self-sacrifice are the very qualities universally held in highest regard. But, because Eric chose to tilt his lance at the windmill of the state, that monstrosity we have been fooled into believing serves our interests, his deeds are portrayed as simply foolish. But make no mistake; Eric is every bit as courageous as any of history’s venerated heroes.

He declared his independence from the state, not with fanfare or proclamations but by living and acting as though it did not exist. Some libertarians pay lip service to living this way, but Eric actually did it, courageously, out in the open, and with no shame. Eric was no “libertarian” per se, but one does not need to identify as one to desire to live their life free of nettlesome busybodies. That instinct is natural; it is the state that beats it out of many of us. The state’s petty rules concerning what products may be sold, for how much, and who is “authorized” to make such sales were as relevant to him as the rules of hopscotch are to anyone walking on a sidewalk. It’s not that he was unaware of the “law” concerning the sale of untaxed cigarettes, it’s that he rightly recognized it as being inimical to the rights of Everyman to earn a living. No one should be required to ask for permission to earn a living. But, anyone who stands up for their rights will necessarily distinguishes themselves from a crowd all too eager to surrender theirs. The man who does so makes himself a target.

Now, being a target, Eric was set upon by the forces of the state, wending their way through the city as phagocytes travel the bloodstream, seeking to engulf and remove that which does not belong. The state will not long suffer the independent man. In the video we learn this was not Eric’s first encounter with the police. We see a man who is simply weary of the constant harassment. So on this fateful day he took a stand and resisted in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi or the Freedom Riders; non-violently. He did not fight back; he simply stood and refused to submit. It seems that civil disobedience against racist laws of the state is celebrated whereas civil disobedience against the authority of the state itself is frowned upon. Strange indeed, given that it is this state authority that gave those old laws their teeth.

Eric’s resistance served as a metaphor for state action against any citizen. He starts out strong and willful as cop after cop attempts to subdue him, but each is repelled by his sheer mass, like ants attacking an elephant. Eventually, even the strongest of us, like an elephant, will succumb to the attack of so many Lilliputians. And in the end Eric was resigned to his fate, having the tiger by the tail as it were. He could either be choked to death while laying prone and offering no resistance, or he could fight back and most assuredly be shot dead. Literally damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

In the end the state does the only thing it can do to those that might resist its authority: it wields deadly force until that “threat” to its authority submits or is eliminated (and if submission accidentally results in elimination so much the better for the state). So to those that believe the state is not a violent entity merely because they do not daily witness such violence on their front lawn, then look no further than what happened to Eric Garner to see the falsity of this belief. This, this is what happens to anyone that resists. Prisons also lack overt daily instances of police violence, but that doesn’t mean the very real threat of it is not the thing that keeps the inmates in line. So too is it with the state. Resistance is futile. You have already been assimilated.

Perpetual Panopticon of Permission

Got this from Western Union today (I have a business account with them)

“In order to meet our legal and regulatory responsibilities we undertake regular Know Your Customer checks to verify the identity of our customers and to establish the source of funds and the nature of the transactions being undertaken.”

Now bear in mind I just set this account up only 4 months ago. They already have all the information they are requesting. Information that never changes (operating agreement, IRS letter showing the EIN number, etc).

This is the beginning of the perpetual permission state, where like a parolee on probation we have to check in with our master to let know them we are still being a good little doggy and have not gotten in with the “bad crowd”. It won’t be long until your bank starts asking you for similar info (birth certificate, SSN card, proof or residence) all to maintain the privilege of keeping money in a bank account. And there will be no alternative (until bitcoin becomes mainstream) as Uncle Sam has his heel on the neck of every bank on the planet.

This is what the war on terror and the war on drugs has gotten us: life in the Panopticon. All financial transactions must be “approved” by our true owners: the state. We must bow down and humbly offer proof of our non-criminality, otherwise we will be cast out, forbidden to engage in any sort of mutually beneficial exchange in the marketplace.

I for one am tired of kissing the ring. Piss off – my business is none of your business!

Police Privilege

The St. Louis County grand jury decision last week in the Darren Wilson/Michael Brown shooting case was an affirmation, not of racism or corruption, but rather of privilege – police privilege. By “privilege” I mean the actual dictionary definition of the term, not the incoherent meaning it has when paired with adjectives such as “white” or “male”. “Privilege” is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” The police are that very group of people who have been granted (by the state) a special right. It is the right to wield lethal force and never bear responsibility for its indiscriminate use.

When the state grants a monopoly privilege upon anyone, cops, courts, or cronyist corporations, it will be abused. This really should not be surprising to anyone. Honestly, ask yourself, if you were granted the right to engage in any behavior without any risk of repercussions, would you really not maybe test those limits just a tad here and there? And then maybe a bit more. And then a bit more. Until eventually one day you felt so entitled to this “right” you couldn’t imagine functioning without it. That is the nature of the state. It corrupts normal behavior by removing all negative feedback until even saints become sinners. Almost every societal ill can be traced to the actions of some group acting in accordance with the legal privilege granted to them by the state (police shootings of the innocent, subpar public schools, traffic deaths on public roads, inequality fostered by the Federal Reserve, limitation of competition through licensing or outright monopoly grants, etc).

The police and their apologists claim that cops couldn’t possibly do their job if they had to second-guess every decision. Yes, much better to act on instinct and hope for the best. If wrong, oh well, better luck next time. If police and police departments were fully liable for their actions somehow I suspect they would be much more prudent in how they carried out their duties. The implementation and use of non-lethal methods to subdue people would become the new standard in police work. Yes, Michael Brown was not a candidate for upstanding citizen of the year award, but his crimes were certainly not worthy of death.

So the real injustice here is not that an arm of the state found another arm of the state to be innocent of any wrongdoing (wow, I’m shocked), but rather that hundreds (if not thousands, oddly, statistics are poorly kept on such deaths ) of innocent men, women and children of all races are gunned down by police officers every year.  And no, that is not to say all cops behave this way, but for every bad apple there are many more that pretend those rotten apples don’t stink. This lack of internal accountability only serves to aid in the metastasization of consequence free behavior.

Unfortunately the protestors (the peaceful ones, the violent ones are beneath contempt) have the right instinct but have totally misdiagnosed the disease. They are saying these police shootings are racially motivated. They cite as proof the broad racial disparity in the statistics that show blacks are more likely to be arrested, incarcerated or killed by police than whites (adjusting for demographics). So does that mean those who shout “racism” will be satisfied if the proportion of blacks arrested, jailed or killed by police falls to the same level as whites? If 5% of black suspects are killed by cops will it no longer be considered racist as long as 5% of white suspects are also killed by cops? As it stands today if a cop kills a black person the proximate cause is always assumed to be racism. This assumed cause then supposedly justifies greater outrage in contrast to a cop killing a white person. That attitude is abhorrent. It is an equal tragedy in both cases. Saying racism is the most egregious thing about police brutality is like saying the worst thing about a deadly poison is that it tastes bad. The ‘why’ of the death is immaterial. All that matters is that the state says such deaths are always ‘legal.’ As long as they remain legal there can be no feedback to bring such practices to an end.

Not Neutrality, Part 3

Last week’s article on Net Neutrality focused primarily on what not to do. Net Neutrality shares an ideological pedigree with every other government backed “solution” intended to solve the problem fostered by government itself. The solution to the (mostly) unfounded fears of Net Neutrality advocates is more competition, not more government one-size-fits-all programs. The only way to get more competition is to reign in government’s ability to restrict it.

The overriding problem is structural. The world we live in is the result of decades of misguided policies and government induced market distortions. Like some perverse game of pick up sticks, this state backed structure retains its form no matter how many pieces are removed, impervious to all “reform.” The state has wrought a Gordian knot so intractable the only solution is to cut it.

At the ground floor of this structure are local municipalities that grant utility providers exclusive monopoly privileges in exchange for the fig leaf of “oversight”. If an outside Internet Service Provider (ISP) wishes to enter that market they have no choice but to negotiate either with the municipality itself or its pet public utility for access to “public” infrastructure such as utility poles or underground conduit. The fees charged for such access can double the cost of the entire project, turning an economically viable endeavor into one that is hopelessly unprofitable and results in the ISP throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away. This encourages either no service or monopoly service. Just as a sperm cell induces a protective response in the egg it fertilizes, so too does the first ISP in a region use the powers of its municipal host to keep out all would be competitors. For example, they may negotiate a contract that requires the municipality or public utility charge any future competitors much higher rates for access or a guarantee of exclusive access, thus effectively securing their monopoly position. In at least 20 states so far some ISPs have pushed for legislation that blocks municipalities from competing as ISPs themselves. Such legislation is typically cloaked in the rhetoric of “saving jobs” to pass the sniff test of public opinion. Not that “municipalizing” an industry is ever a good idea, but to the extent that it is possible for this to occur without the use of any taxes, subsidies or eminent domain, there is theoretically no ethical issue with such competition. Although I would seriously question whether such tax-free competition is possible, the easiest way to test that is to remove the power of taxation and eminent domain, not create a rat’s nest of exceptions and restrictions.

To ultimately solve these issues we need fewer, not more laws. We need fewer grants of monopoly privilege for both private and “public” interests. Municipalities should have no rights to grant charters or licenses to any business. This removes the whole notion of “public” utilities. With that antiquated framework swept away, we would witness competition between electric, gas, water, sewage, phone, and Internet providers solve an array of problems that are intractable under the current “public” system. For example, restrictions in Georgia on the generation of solar power, water rationing during drought, and poor and expensive phone service, are all easily solved in a competitive environment. For Internet access one solution could be totally free access but the consumer pays the content provider directly. Or a consumer pays their ISP but there exists an explicit contract where the ISP guarantees maximum speed to all content. Or a million other approaches that neither you nor I can predict. We must dispense with the “should” attitude of “it should work this way or that way.” “Should” implies the necessity of an enforcer to make that “should” a reality. “Could” is more appropriate. It acknowledges the uncertainty of anyone being prescient enough to know what is best. To paraphrase Yoda, “No should! Could or could not, there is no should.”

Competition permits the creative power of millions to come to bear on solving problems. They pursue it in hopes of “winning” the best-solution-lottery that will yield happy paying customers. Municipal monopolies maintain a legacy status quo system by restricting all allowed approaches to just one. If one is knowingly ingesting poison the solution is to not also simultaneously ingest an antidote; the solution is to stop ingesting the poison.

Not Neutrality, Part 2

The moniker “net neutrality” is perhaps one of the most masterful strokes of political propaganda, right up there with “ethnic cleansing” and “quantitative easing” when measured for overall obfuscation. When asked their opinion, many are hesitant to take a stand, as they retreat behind a wall of an honest lack of knowledge on the subject. For the most part this is due to a perceived requirement that one must possess a deep technical understanding of how the internet works in order to have an informed opinion. Unfortunately this plays right into the hands of its proponents; “it’s complicated, trust us, we know what is best”. In fact this complexity tactic comes directly from the pundit’s playbook; witness the recent condescending Jonathan Gruber revelations (“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”) In fact, the essence of net neutrality is not at all complicated; it is just good ol’ fashioned crony capitalism in 21st century garb.

Putatively complicated subjects are often best understood through metaphor. In this case we cast the large content carriers (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google) as manufacturers. The manufacturers need to ship their product to distributors. The ISP’s (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon) are the shipping carriers. Currently it is entirely uncontroversial that shipping carriers charge more to ship large things quickly than they do to ship small things slowly. So if we rename “net neutrality” as “shipping neutrality” things come into focus. Under “shipping neutrality” the large manufacturers want the government to force the shipping carriers to charge everyone the exact same amount regardless of size, weight, or speed. In fact, they want the shippers to ship everything at “next day air” speeds but charge first class letter rates. Net neutrality is nothing more than two parties disagreeing over pricing for a service. The cronyism comes in to play when one side demands the government take their side and implement a price ceiling. Of course such naked rent seeking would never fly politically, so it is camouflaged under the guise of protecting freedom, equality and baby kittens. Who could be against baby kittens?

But, as with all types of economic protectionism (tariffs, subsidies and other price controls) it is the consumer that is ultimately harmed. To discern this harm we must extend the metaphor a bit further. If the shipping carriers could not recoup their costs from the shipper then they would have no choice but to collect it from the recipient (postage due surcharge). Nothing is free and someone must pay.

We should be striving to make the internet more, not less, like a package shipping network. For example, if our neighbor receives a large delivery and we receive a small one, we do not subsidize his shipment through a “monthly shipment access fee”. If we receive no shipments in a particular month, we pay nothing. With free competition we would likely see a similar situation with internet access develop: no monthly charges, pay for only the amount and speed you demand as you actually consume it.

Today with internet access we pay the same amount month after month regardless of the extent to which we utilize that service. Although some may pay a bit more for faster service, the fact remains that light users subsidize heavy users. Under net neutrality this subsidization ‘inequality’ would only become more extreme. Heavy Netflix users will cause ISP’s to increase access rates for all consumers because they are legally prohibited from collecting anything extra from Netflix or basing consumer’s charges on their usage patterns; all in the name of ‘fairness’ of course. Would it not be a better outcome if through competition ISP’s charged Netflix more to ensure priority for their content and Netflix in turned passed that cost onto their customers alone? Internet access for everyone else would get cheaper and faster as ISP’s plow that ‘Netflix’ profit into bigger and faster pipes.

An even worse outcome of net neutrality would be if ISP’s were prohibited from raising anyone’s rates. This would result in a fixed price but ever slowing speeds as the network became more congested. At which point the voters would cry out “to do something” and we would then see a new “internet delivery tax” collected by the government and doled out to ISP’s that promised to wag their tails and do their master’s bidding (such as identifying all users on their network, tracking “suspicious” behavior and shutting down websites deemed by the government to be “politically incorrect”.)

So net neutrality supporters, be careful what you wish for, you just might get the world Edward Snowden feared.

“Muh Ebola outbreak!”

When those who steadfastly believe in the ideal of a free society (i.e. no state) try to convince their brainwashed brethren to imagine a world free of institutionalized violence they are invariably assailed not with counter-arguments but rather with emotionalism or questions. “But without the state, how would X be accomplished?” This typical smug response betrays the interlocutor’s belief in the false choice promoted by the state, namely, that without the state it is not possible to accomplish X, Y, or Z. But a question is not an argument. A question proves nothing other than the questioner’s inability to understand the argument. A lack of understanding does not invalidate an argument any more than understanding it proves its validity. There is no more telling example of this truth than the obvious invalidity of the rejoinder “but who will pick the cotton?” from those that opposed the end of slavery. Apropos the similarity between statism and slavery: this method of argumentation, assaulting your opponent with questions believed to have no answer, is the most common tact against those proposing the end of statism. Without the state: who will build the roads? Who will teach the children? Who will stop the criminals? Who will stop the Ebola outbreaks?

It is this last point that I’d like to address since (a) the first three are absurdly easy to refute and (b) even some libertarians have a hard time answering this one. Let me begin by stating the guiding principle behind any of these thought experiments: if apparently the only way to accomplish something is by initiating violence against a fellow human being then you’re either not very imaginative or it is something that truly should not be done. Incentives and persuasion always trump coercion and violence. So, without further ado, how does one stop the spread of highly infectious diseases in a free society? To find the answer we need look no further than what the state does, albeit rather poorly, today. The answer lies within the principal of private property and the absolute control and discretion of private property owners over the use of their property. The state takes on the presumptive role of being the property owner of all within its borders. Under this presumption of ownership it then exercises its putative rights as property owner, namely control of ingress and egress and movement in that property. The irony of such state control is that the state actually has an incentive to do a poor job when it comes to control of infectious disease. Why is that? Because crises are the perennial excuse for expansion of state power, power that when the crises is over, is never relinquished. That is not to say those in power deliberately try to make it worse, but merely that failure of the state in its stated goals always results in the people rewarding it with more, not less, power.

Within a free society that had full private property rights the property owner (hospital) carries liability insurance and that insurance requires it do everything in its power to not release infected people. If an infected person wanted to leave anyway, they could, but only to the extent surrounding property owners permitted it. In other words, they wouldn’t get very far owing to highly secure fences and private roads. A private road owner would have a mutual contract with the hospital (for their own insurance reasons) to not permit sick individuals to leave without a clean bill of health. Because the state shields hospitals from this type of liability and the state owns all the roads and the state itself has no liability many people like this fall through the cracks today. In a private system there are many more people involved (insurance, hospital, road company, surrounding property owners) and this ensures a more granular level of control that minimizes “crack fall through”.

What we have today is a total structural problem in how society is organized. This is why there is no simple “what liberty says we should do” answer when we consider how we should handle quarantines within the current system. It is insufficient to say “we must respect the right of the individual who is infected” while ignoring the systemic problem of monopolistic state ownership that both crowds out competitors that would do a better job and that eliminates liability for its own mistakes.

Halloween Economics

Every Halloween children engage in the single largest simultaneous generation of mutual profit and yet not a single dollar changes hands. As the lights go out on the front porches the opening trade bell chimes for the time honored post-Trick-or-Treat ritual known as “the trade”. Twizzlers, Snickers, M&M’s, lollipops all change hands multiple times. The absolute quantity of candy changing hands is static, only ownership changes. Yet when all trades are complete everyone is happier than when they started out. How then can this apparent zero-sum game produce a positive output not just for some participants, but for all participants? The answer is quite simple: all value is subjective.

The Halloween candy market mirrors the real world in microcosmic fashion. Each participant starts out with a random distribution of candy; some may have more and some less, but all have something. In the same way each of us is born into this world with differing abilities that carry with them advantages and disadvantages (i.e. some are born into candy rich or candy poor neighborhoods to extend the metaphor). This process may be “unfair” but all have something to offer each other. But, what all have in equal proportion is the human propensity for general dissatisfaction with whatever they do have and therefore each has a desire to improve his or her condition. So, people have X but they want Y, and in order to achieve Y they will use X to get as much of Y as they can. Of course trade is usually never that simple. Sometimes to get X you must trade Y for T and T for R and R for U and then U for X. But the point is that with each completed trade both participants have a profit; that is, both place a higher value on the item(s) obtained post-trade then the items they had pre-trade. Profit is merely our subjective assessment of having gained an increase in satisfaction when we consider our post and pre-trade mindsets. Were there not an anticipated increase in satisfaction then naturally we would not have engaged in such a trade. Of course it is not impossible to deliberately trade away something we hold in high esteem for something we hold in much lower esteem, but it would be foolish. But do not misinterpret that as meaning that a “sacrifice” is foolish. In fact if done willingly it is not possible to “sacrifice” something. The one “sacrificing” does receive something of greater value in the exchange; the satisfaction of benefitting the one for whom they willingly “sacrifice”.

Because all value is subjective it makes it difficult (if not impossible) for a third party to judge the outcome of a trade. To use the candy example, if a parent who detests Tootsie Rolls witnesses their child trade away all of their Hershey Kisses for Tootsie Rolls, then that parent will indignantly conclude their child has been “ripped off” and may attempt to intervene. But since their child loves Tootsie Rolls and the other kid loves Hershey Kisses then both kids are now much happier because of their swap. Both children have profited from the trade but the parent believes one child has gained and the other has lost. This demonstrates the utter futility of believe a third party can “regulate” economic trade by substituting their own subjective opinion for the equally subjective opinion of the market participants. For example, imagine what would happen if a parent decreed a minimum wage of sorts. House rules say jawbreakers must trade for at least two Hershey Kisses. But, jawbreakers are so universally disliked that the market rate is actually 10 jawbreakers for one Hershey’s kiss. What do you imagine would happen to the kids with lots of jawbreakers? That’s right, no one would trade with them because no one would be willing to meet the decreed price minimum. This market intervention and subsequent distortion causes decreased profit not only for the kids with jawbreakers but for all other participants that now are barred from trading with them. Intervention robs all of the maximum satisfaction that could have been achieved.

Fortunately the state has yet to get involved in exerting control over this chaotic and unregulated candy free market. Each Halloween we are witness to the simple beauty of the natural equilibrium of increasing satisfaction achieved by those able to freely engage in uncoerced and unregulated trade.