Monthly Archives: September 2013

Senator Jim Risch Approves of the NSA Spying on You

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Senator Jim RischOnce again, I’m sharing correspondence I received from US Senator Jim Risch. After sending a him a letter asking that he stop the NSA from spying on us, this is what I got back:

Dear Tate:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  I appreciate hearing from you.

I strongly support individual freedoms and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

At the same time, the number one priority of the federal government is to protect the people of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Really? I thought that Risch swore to uphold the Constitution, not “I swear to uphold the Constitution as long as it strikes the proper balance with the other objectives I might have.” And what if it is the case that it is the federal government itself that is the greatest harm to the people of the United States? It is beyond unlikely that Jim Risch will do anything to protect us from it. Read the rest of this entry

The Expression of the Total State: Prison

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Let’s talk about prison

I know this video is a bit long, but I think it’s definitely worth pondering. Jeffrey Tucker interviews Daniel D’Amico, who talks about his academic specialization of jails and prison. I find D’Amico to be a very interesting scholar, having personally taken a class from him on the American Prison State through Mises Academy.

Incarceration, though it is out of sight and out of mind, is something that needs to be discussed. Indeed, it seems amazing that it is so seldom talked about considering what it is. Though a defining characteristic of the state is that it claims the right to enforce its will by deadly force, the very next measure under that is lock up. What effects does this have on a person? Tucker talks about his short stint in jail after running a stop sign, saying what really struck him is that no one in that environment cares at all about you: the warden, the guards, and the inmates all look at you as if you’re a burden and they would rather not have you there. D’Amico speaks of the psychological costs of long term solitary confinement, causing people to lose the ability to speak and write, and essentially making them lose their sanity.

Somebody might respond that inmates deserve to be there anyway. But is that necessarily the case? As libertarians we hold that people who produce, sell, and consume drugs harm no one but themselves (and if they do harm someone else there are already laws against that), and therefore it is unjust to use force against them. It is these very people who make up the majority of the prison population.

But even considering the people who have committed very heinous acts, D’Amico questions the default idea that they should be put in prison. Is this really the best response to this type of human action? This presents an interesting question to anarchist theorists, who spend surprisingly little time on it. There are three general parts to the criminal justice system: the police, the courts, and the penal system. In their envisioning of the market anarchist system, theorists have spent a whole lot of ink dealing with questions of enforcement and adjudication, the first two parts. However, comparatively less has been said about what will happen to those who are found to have committed egregious acts.

Scholars such as Bruce Benson and John Hasnas have pointed to the fact that English Common Law most often had penal practices based on restitution. Robert P. Murphy’s ideas of punishment in market anarchy involve private prisons that compete to house and rehabilitate offenders, having them work to pay off their restitution and “rent,” as well as taking the risk of liability in vouching for them once they have been released. (This speaks of another large problem in the American penal system: recidivism. Almost 2/3 of released felons commit crimes and end up back in the big house.)

Prison is an issue that affects all Americans, either directly by being in one, or through being a major part of many states’ budgets. I believe that if not for the fact that people don’t know how much they are paying to warehouse people, the prison-industrial complex as we know it would not exist. Please join me in discussing this topic.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry Argues For Compulsory Military Service (from a Libertarian Perspective)

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Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Not sure if you like to check out Cato Unbound, which is project of the Cato Institute where a lead essay is presented and response essays follow, but this month’s lead essay is entitled, “The Libertarian Case for National Military Service,” written by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

Predictably, many readers found such an idea ridiculous. On its face, I agree with them: what could be more antithetical to libertarians than combining the injustice of forced servitude with the atrocity of war? Indeed, many of the commenters took issue with Gobry’s definition of a libertarian, which he sharply distinguished from being anarchist. (Which seems a bit pretentious since in a comment to Kuznicki’s response, Gobry claims that he is not a libertarian.)

However, I seriously attempted to overcome the obvious points of contention about what a libertarian is and is not, and focused on the main point being made: that an ideal libertarian society would have a compulsory national military service.

Thus, I left the following comment, which is currently still awaiting a response:

Despite finding myriad problems with the points made on this essay, I want to focus on three.

One is that I don’t find the case made for conscription being a bulwark against jingoism all that convincing. Is there an example outside of Switzerland that this is the case (assuming that universal conscription is, in fact, a major contributing factor)? Is it not the case that totalitarian regimes won’t hesitate to conscript unwilling civilians? I’m ignorant of which nations do what, but would be surprised if there is a correlation between countries that use conscription and how free they are generally.

The war in Vietnam is contrasted with the war in Iraq as having more protestation due to the draft. But this is hardly a comfort; unwilling men were sent to kill and die in southeast Asia, nonetheless. Conscription did not keep the US out of WWI or WWII or the Korean War.

Secondly, it seems that the argument that universal conscription will make Americans more dovish towards foreign policy because they bear the costs is contradicted earlier in the essay, when it’s said that only a small minority will ever see combat and for most, military service is playing in the mud while being yelled at. So, universal military service isn’t so bad because it’s probably the case you won’t be shot at, but it’s important to have because everyone bears the costs?

Lastly, if the goal is really to have the costs be widespread so that people are less anxious to go to war, I think a measure much more acceptable to libertarians would be to restore a hard money standard and force the government to fund these wars through direct taxation rather than through credit and inflation. If the financial costs of foreign wars were not hidden from taxpayers and put on future generations, there would be a revolt before the wars could last as long as they have.

If anything, Gobry demonstrates what a slippery slope accepting expanded roles for the State can be. Here are the implications Gobry gets from what he thinks libertarians believe:

But let’s take the argument on its merits and see whether it holds up. What powers of the state do libertarians think are legitimate?

Libertarians think the state should provide for the national defense. They think it’s legitimate for a state to have a military.

Libertarians think it’s legitimate for the state to use violence to take people’s money. If you don’t think taxation is legitimate, you are an anarchist, not a libertarian.

Well, military service is a form of in-kind taxation. Money is time. That’s what it is. When I buy a loaf of bread, I exchange a little bit of my time for a little bit of the baker’s time.

Perhaps it’s only legitimate for the state to take our time in the form of money and not in its original form, but we know that it’s not true.

We think it’s legitimate for the state to mandate children to be educated for approximately twelve years of their life. Twelve years! Not the one or two years of conscription in most countries. Libertarians are very rightly adamant about defending choice in how and where children may be educated, but few libertarians have a problem with the idea that it should be mandatory to educate children. Some libertarians oppose mandatory schooling, but supporting mandatory schooling is hardly libertarian heresy. And the reason why schooling is mandatory is very much the logic for military service: it was thought in the Enlightenment era that education is a prerequisite for freedom just as soldierdom is.

Perhaps this way of thinking will turn more minarchists into anarchists. Why, if we allow a role for the State to coerce at all, then we have to accept its ability to force people to kill and die in its name, mandate compulsory schooling, and that being forced to become a soldier is a prerequisite for freedom!

I think David D’Amato summed it up best in his response to Gobry’s essay:

I’ve never had much interest in attempting to decide who is or isn’t allowed to call himself a libertarian…Instead, I would want to make it very plain that if we assume, arguendo, libertarianism actually can countenance military conscription, then I no longer wish to identify myself as a libertarian. If libertarianism can tolerate something as odious and authoritarian as legally enforced enslavement to a war machine, it’s really not something I want to have even the remotest association with.