Friday, July 31, 2009


Excerpted from Practical Anarchy, by Stefan Molyneux.
It presupposes some knowledge of Dispute Resolution Organizations, or DROs.
Emphasis added by me.


This is perhaps the greatest problem faced by free market theorists. It is worth spending a little time on outlining the worst possible scenario, to see how a voluntary system could solve it. However, it is important to first dispel the notion that the State currently deals effectively with pollution. Firstly, the most polluted land on the planet is State-owned, because States do not profit from retaining the value of their property. Secondly, the distribution of mineral, lumber and drilling rights is directly skewed towards bribery and corruption, because States never sell the land, but rather just the resource rights. A lumber company cannot buy woodlands from the State, just harvesting rights. Thus the State gets a renewable source of income, and can further coerce lumber companies by enforcing re-seeding. This, of course, tends to promote bribery, corruption and the creation of "fly-by-night" lumber companies which strip the land bare, but vanish when it comes time to re-seed. Selling State land to a private company easily solves this problem, because a company that was willing to re-seed would reap the greatest long-term profits from the woodland, and therefore would be able to bid the most for the land.

Also, it should be remembered that, in the realm of air pollution, States created the problem in the first place. In England, when industrial smokestacks first began belching fumes into the orchards of apple farmers, the farmers took the factory-owners to court, citing the common-law tradition of restitution for property damage. Sadly, however, the capitalists had gotten to the State courts first, and had more money to bribe with, employed more voting workers, and contributed more tax revenue than the farmers - and so the farmer's cases were thrown out of court. The judge argued that the "common good" of the factories trumped the "private need" of the farmers. The free market did not fail to solve the problem of air pollution - it was forcibly prevented from doing so because the State was corrupted.

However, it is a sticking point, so it is worth examining in detail how the free market might solve the problem of air pollution. One egregious example often cited is a group of houses downwind from a new factory which is busy night and day coating them in soot.

Now, when a man buys a new house, isn't it important to him to ensure that he will not be coated with someone else's refuse? The need for a clean and safe environment is so strong that it is a clear invitation for enterprising entrepreneurs to sweat bullets figuring out how to provide it.

If a group of homeowners is afraid of pollution, the first thing they will do is buy pollution insurance, which is a natural response to a situation where costs cannot be predicted but consequences are dire.

Let us say that a homeowner named John buys pollution insurance which pays him two million dollars if the air in or around his house becomes polluted. In other words, as long as John's air remains clean, his insurance company makes money.

One day, a plot of land up-wind of John's house comes up for sale. Naturally, his insurance company would be very interested in this, and would monitor the sale. If the purchaser is some private school, all is well (assuming John has not bought noise pollution insurance). If, however, the insurance company discovers that Sally's House of Polluting Paint Production is interested in purchasing the plot of land, it will likely spring into action, taking one of the following courses:
  • Buying the land itself, then selling it to a non-polluting buyer;
  • Getting assurances from Sally that her company will not pollute;
  • Paying Sally to enter into a non-polluting contract.
If, however, someone at the insurance company is asleep at the wheel, and Sally buys the land and puts up her polluting factory, what happens then?

Well, then the insurance company is on the hook for $2M to John (assuming for the moment that only John bought pollution insurance). Thus, it can afford to pay Sally up to $2M to reduce her pollution and still be cash-positive. This payment could take many forms, from the installation of pollution-control equipment to a buy-out to a subsidy for under-production and so on.

If the $2M is not enough to solve the problem, then the insurance company pays John the $2M and he goes and buys a new house in an unpolluted neighbourhood. However, this scenario is highly unlikely, since the insurance company would be unlikely to insure only one single person in a neighbourhood against air pollution.

So, that is the view from John's air-pollution insurance company. What about the view from Sally's House of Polluting Paint Production? She, also, must be covered by a DRO in order to buy land, borrow money and hire employees. How does that DRO view her tendency to pollute?

Pollution brings damage claims against Sally, because pollution is by definition damage to persons or property. Thus Sally's DRO would take a dim view of her pollution, since it would be on the hook for any damage her factory causes. In fact, it would be most unlikely that Sally's DRO would insure her against damages unless she were able to prove that she would be able to operate her factory without harming the property of those around her. And without a DRO, of course, she would be unable to start her factory, borrow money, hire employees etc.

It is important to remember that DROs, much like cell phone companies, only prosper if they cooperate. Sally's DRO only makes money if Sally does not pollute. John's insurer also only makes money if Sally does not pollute. Thus the two companies share a common goal, which fosters cooperation.

Finally, even if John is not insured against air pollution, he can use his and/or Sally's DRO to gain restitution for the damage her pollution is causing to his property. Both Sally and John's DROs would have reciprocity agreements, since John wants to be protected against Sally's actions, and Sally wants to be protected against John's actions. Because of this desire for mutual protection, they would choose DROs which had the widest reciprocity agreements.

Thus, in a truly free market, there are many levels and agencies actively working against pollution. John's insurer will be actively scanning the surroundings looking for polluters it can forestall. Sally will be unable to build her paint factory without proving that she will not pollute. Mutual or independent DROs will resolve any disputes regarding property damage caused by Sally's pollution.

There are other benefits as well, which are almost unsolvable in the current system. Imagine that Sally's smokestacks are so high that her air pollution sails over John's house and lands on Reginald's house, a hundred miles away. Reginald then complains to his DRO/insurer that his property is being damaged. His DRO will examine the air contents and wind currents, then trace the pollution back to its source and resolve the dispute with Sally's DRO. If the air pollution is particularly complicated, then Reginald's DRO will place non-volatile compounds into Sally's smokestacks and follow them to where they land. This can be used in a situation where a number of different factories may be contributing pollutants.

The problem of inter-country air pollution may seem to be a sticky one, but it is easily solvable - even if we accept that countries will still exist. Obviously, a Canadian living along the Canada/US border, for instance, will not choose a DRO which refuses to cover air pollution emanating from the US. Thus the DRO will have to have reciprocity agreements with the DROs across the border. If the US DROs refuse to have reciprocity agreements with the Canadian DROs - inconceivable, since the pollution can go both ways - then the Canadian DRO will simply start a US branch and compete.

The difference is that international DROs actually profit from cooperation, in a way that governments do not. For instance, a State government on the Canada/US border has little motivation to impose pollution costs on local factories, as long as the pollution generally goes north. For DRO's, quite the opposite would be true.

There are so many benefits to the concept of State-less DRO's that they could easily fill volumes. A few can be touched on here, to further highlight the value of the idea.

In a condominium building, ownership is conditional upon certain rules. Even though a man "owns" the property, he cannot throw all-night parties, or keep five large dogs, or operate a brothel. Without the coercive blanket of a central State, the opportunities for a wide variety of communities arise, which will largely eliminate the current social conflicts about the direction of society as a whole.

For instance, some people like guns to be available, while others prefer them to be unavailable. Currently, a battle rages for control of the State so that one group can enforce its will on the other. That's unnecessary. With DRO's, communities can be formed in which guns are either permitted, or not permitted. Marijuana can be approved or forbidden. Half your income can be deducted for various social schemes, or you can keep it all for yourself. Sunday shopping can be allowed, or disallowed. It is completely up to the individual to choose what kind of society he or she wants to live in. The ownership of property in such communities is conditional on following certain rules, and if those rules prove onerous or unpleasant, the owner can sell and move at any time. Another plus is that all these "societies" exist as little laboratories, and can prove or disprove various theories about gun ownership, drug legalization and so on, thus contributing to people's knowledge about the best rules for communities.

One or two problems exist, however, which cannot be spirited away. A person who decides to live "off the grid" - or exist without any DRO representation - can theoretically get away with a lot. However, that is also true in the existing statist system. If a man currently decides to become homeless, he can more or less commit crimes at will - but he also gives up all beneficial and enforceable forms of social cooperation. Thus although DROs may not solve the problem of utter lawlessness, neither does the current system, so all is equal.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Gun In The Room

At least partially dedicated to [info]softside who cringes at the mention of one of the these guys.

These guys being L. Neil Smith and Stefan Molyneux. To Smith I owe an underlying principle, not for originating it--he didn't--but for distilling it, thusly...

The Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP)

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.

I don't claim to live up to it, but it that to which I aspire in my relationships with others and with the world in general. The idea is living your life without leaving a trail of damage and suffering in your wake.

Some people may reject the notion, but other than dismissing it as idealism, what is the objection? Where is the wrongness of it? I'll entertain any suggestions. But I digress.

L. Neil Smith is also responsible for a beautiful metaphor. In a discussion on gun rights--it always comes down to guns and money with you people--he describes a politician's position on gun control as... X-ray machine. It's a Vulcan mind-meld. It's the ultimate test to which any politician -- or political philosophy -- can be put.

What his attitude -- toward your ownership and use of weapons -- conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn't trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him?

If he doesn't want you to have the means of defending your life, do you want him in a position to control it?

As far as I can tell from his writing Smith and I part company on one point. He seem to still be entertaining the notion that a magic piece of paper will ward of the depredations of thugs. For Smith, the X-ray machine, the Vulcan mind-meld, is a tool for making voting simpler. If I thought voting mattered I'd agree.

But, you might ask, what has this to do with Stefan Molyneux? Well, to him I owe the title of this essay and my X-ray machine, my Vulcan mind-meld--perhaps even my Gold Kryptonite--to cut right to the core of what I consider arguments against freedom and in defense of government in the form of a coercive monopoly on violence.

Molyneux also has also identified one the main arguments against a voluntarist, stateless society. He calls it the Argument from Apocalypse...

Basically, the argument goes something like this:

“We’re all gonna DIEEEEEEE!”

It would actually be nice if it were slightly more sophisticated than that, but the reality is that it is not.

The basic argument is that if we accept proposition “X,” civilized society will collapse, children will die in the streets, the old will end up eating each other, and the world will dissolve into an endless and apocalyptic war of all against all.

He points the same argument was used against abolitionists in the past and atheists today.

The futility comes in arguing the details. If I suggest that private roads would be a better way to manage the movement of automobiles than a public monopoly backed up by force the AFA gets trotted out. "Well, what's to stop some rich guy from buying up all the roads in an region and then charging $100 per mile to drive on them?"

The first response is often to dive into the details, especially since you've read all of Walter Block's outstanding work on private roads, but you've already lost the argument because every point you make will be countered with collapsed civilization and dead children. Who could possibly be in favor of that?

Point out that free market medicine would both reduce costs and increase innovation, you can point to Dr. James Brook or Dr. Mary Ruwart, but for God sakes, man, with out the FDA and the AMA old people will be lying dead in the street. Why do you hate my grandma?

The same response will arise at the suggestion that all drugs should be legal, there should be no public schools, that property rights are absolute, any suggestion that absent the threat of prison or death for noncompliance people are perfectly capable of devising their own methods of social organization based on free choice, mutual exchange and individual sovereignty.

What to do? Well, pull out the kryptonite. Point out the gun in the room. As Stephan Molyneux pointed out in the video that crystallized the concept in my mind...

Statist violence always escalates until the violence is visible. Slavery continues until the humanity of the slaves becomes visible. Aggression against women and children will continue until the humanity of women and children becomes visible.

Statist violence always escalates until the violence is visible. If you keep pointing out the gun, it will be lowered.

The argument is not how would we do roads in a free society, but how do we eliminate the violence inherent in a road system based on eminent domain and taxes, on theft? It's not the details of how advertising prices by physicians or allowing pharmacists and nurse practitioners to compete in areas that are now the purview of licensed physician, but in the violence inherent in allowing a government-backed cartel to control the the distribution of a vital social good. First deal with the violence, then we can find solutions to the problems.

The gun is there every time. When you discuss methods of social organization and governance always look for and point out the gun.

Someone may make the assertion that we must have tax funded public schools or the poor will not be educated. A person who truly believed in freedom, as we libertarians claim, could really have no other response than "I agree completely that you believe that, and I applaud your compassion for the poor. You have my full consent to pursuing your goal. You may promote it however you wish and give as much or you time, money and effort as you feel the issue deserves. Perhaps if you are persuasive enough you might get some of my money as well, but in the same way I offer you full latitude to pursue your goals in the way you deem best I ask the same from you. The same freedom to pursue my goals with my time, money and effort."

"But, no," comes the retort, "everyone has to contribute."

"And if they don't?"

"They will be forced."

"By who?"

"The government."

"And you consent to that? You agree that the government should have the ability to force compliance with your ideas of how society should be run? If you consent to it you are just as responsible as the people you empower to be your agents. What you are saying is when push comes to shove, if we disagree, if we arrive at an intractable impasse, you will reach for a gun."

People usually respond with anger if you keep coming back to it. It make a person uncomfortable to recognize their own complicity in the violence. That's OK. That anger will give way to recognition on the part of some, for others it will be that X-ray machine, that Vulcan mind-meld, the Gold Kryptonite.

You will reach a point where you can honestly say there is no point in debating, if I am unconvinced by your arguments you will reach for a gun. That's not a debate, it is not an intellectual exchange, we are not on even ground. You would kill rather than give me the freedom I offer you.

Put down the gun. Then we can talk.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Heath Care: Two links and a video

A blogger by the name of "Scarecrow" in discussing an episode of Glen Beck observed

When arguing health care with someone who wants Obama's plan to pass, the correct tack to take is: Obama's plan is just more of the same Washington interference that got us into this mess in the first place. Everything that has grown worse about American health care in the past few decades will only multiply under Obama's plan.

The caller on Beck's program asks him what he would do to fix health care. Beck has no answer for her. Conservatives have an untenable position on this issue. Health care is the number one concern of most Americans, but what needs to be done to improve it isn't politically feasible. Step 1 would be to abolish Medicare/Medicaid and all related programs. Step 2 would be to abolish the FDA and legalize all drugs. Step 3 - strip the AMA of its political power to restrict the number of licensed doctors. Private companies should come up with their own standards and certifications for medical providers, as happens in every functional industry in the world. Step 4 is to remove all laws specific to health care, and allow consumers and businesses to operate and innovate freely.

Instead of defending America's system, Beck should have told the caller she could have it to do with what she will, and in exchange, he and anyone else should be free to opt out entirely and create their own health care system, one that is free from any government involvement at all.

Read it here: Don't Let Yourself Get Caught Defending American Health Care

Elsewhere he turns what some might call very persuasive defense of single payer upside down and inside out with two short paragraphs bracketing someone else words. You really should read the whole thing, both to see the force of what we are up against, and the ease with which Scarecrow neutered it.

In a great bit of irony, leftist site Blog For Our Future did a fantastic analysis showing that our health care system is at least 2/3 government controlled already! For some reason, they think this is evidence in favor of giving government complete control...

Read it all here: The Numbers, Cold and Clear. We Already Have Socialized Medicine.

And then there is Stefan Molyneux at his rhetorical peak hurling truth like javelins and greatly in need of a proofreader. Of the videos I've watched this is his best so far.

True News 46: Health Care Part 1

At the very core is a coercive monopoly on violence and their guns are pointed at you.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Peter Schiff

I've given up on electoral politics, but I'll be sending a hundred bucks just for the chance to see him debate Chris Dodd.

Monday, July 20, 2009

10th Amendment Test Coming?

ATF to Tennessee: We're above your law

On Friday, we saw the letter ATF sent to FFL dealers in Tennessee telling them the Bureau was overriding the state's Firearms Freedom Act, and would continue to impose federal requirements in disregard of state law.

The law states that “federal laws and regulations do not apply to personal firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition that is manufactured in Tennessee and remains in Tennessee. The limitation on federal law and regulation stated in this bill applies to a firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured using basic materials and that can be manufactured without the inclusion of any significant parts imported into this state.”

ATF to Montana: 'You will respect our authoritah!'

They've done the same thing to Montanans.

Under the new law, guns intended only for Montana would be stamped "Made in Montana." The drafters of the law hope to set off a legal battle with a simple Montana-made youth-model single-shot, bolt-action .22 rifle. They plan to find a "squeaky clean" Montanan who wants to send a note to the ATF threatening to build and sell about 20 such rifles without federal dealership licensing.

If the ATF tells them it's illegal, they will sue and take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if they can.

As a side note, go ahead and see for yourself the utter lack of coverage on this development by any of the "mainstream" media outlets--newspapers, networks, websites...time was, a free press acted as a government watchdog.

We've seen similar efforts in other states, notably Montana, Minnesota, South Carolina, Florida, Texas...

So, does anyone think this is going to go anywhere? Will someone have the cojones to back the 10th amendment all the way?

Or is it just going to validate my favorite Spooner quote?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public Health Care Bubble?

When people talk about public health care, whether it is single payer, an optional government plan or just subsidized private insurance, at the simplest level all require some people to pay more than they normally would so that others don't have to pay as much as they normally would. Since the government has no money of its own it will have to pay for it via taxes or borrowing--which is simply a deferred tax. This is, of course, blindingly obvious.

What proponents avoid talking about is the violence at the core of this calculus.

The people who have to pay more have no option. If they do not pay they will get a stern letter from the government, followed by a court date, followed by policemen coming to their house if they do not appear and submit to the court’s judgment. If they use force to defend themselves against the policemen who are breaking into their home, they will very likely be shot down. Public health care, in other words, is funded at the point of a gun. The use of violence is the central issue, not what good might potentially happen as the result of violence.*

If you really want to reduce the cost of health care, not prop up the inflated, corporate and government subsidized insurance companies and student loan inflated doctors who think they are gods on earth, all medical practitioners should be allowed to advertise prices and successful outcome rates and licensing and certification should be handled by competing private agencies, not the AMA cartel. If you take those steps the cost of health care will plummet and going to a doctor would cost more along the lines of car repairs or hiring a plumber.

Instead, now that the government subsidized housing/financial bubble has popped we might very well be blowing up a heath care bubble by maintaining corporate medicine with its current insane pricing structure and business model rather than allowing competition, the free flow of information and reduced barriers to entry to drive down the cost of medicine the way every other high tech industry has been able to do.

Instead, politically motivated legislation and tax policy will continue to steer wealth out of the pockets of the middle class into the coffers of Wall Street all the while pretending to help the poor till it all falls apart again and everyone says nobody could have seen it coming.

What till they start selling derivatives on medical savings accounts and credit default swaps on group insurance funds.

*Kudos to Stefan Molyneux for framing that argument so well.

Monday, July 13, 2009